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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Wednesday, April 30, 2008Presence in absence - absence in presence Presence in absence - absence in presence - a few thoughts on Ascension provoked in part by that great poet of absence/presence, R.S. Thomas.... here. [And thanks also, of course, to Rod for last Saturday]
Tuesday, April 29, 2008Spiritual Direction
Brilliant. I'll be using that in my workshop on spiritual direction next week.
Monday, April 28, 2008Today in Sheffield
Over a feeble station kiosk tea served in a Ripple Coffee Cup I finished reading Merlin Coverley's Psychogeography, a decent little primer somewhat limited by its blinkered Londoncentricity;
I had a meaningful pro-Fall conversation with the woman in Zavvi whilst handing over my eleven quid for the purchase of Imperial Wax Solvent (out today!);
I stood in driving rain with a huddle of Sheffield trades unionists and the Lord Mayor at the Workers’ Memorial Tree by the Town Hall, all marking Workers' Memorial Day by listening to the testimony of asbestosis survivor John, striving to catch his precious words as the vile wind hacked them down Fargate;
In another rainstorm I sheltered in a bus stop on Burngreave Road, watching scaffolders hoist lengths of cylindrical metal up alongside the white stone face of St Catherine's RC Church, celebrating skillful, speedy manoeuvres with whoops and shouts;
Over another cuppa, in a mug marking a Methodist church centenary, Ian Duffield helped me form a proposal to join the Sheffield Urban Theology Unit's MPhil/PhD in Theology & Religion, Contextual, Urban and Liberation Theologies programme, a piece of work with a working title Urban Walking in L11: Psychogeography, Anthropology and Theology;
On a Pitsmoor roadside I joined forces with an Asian youth in attaching a set of jumpleads to the car battery of a grateful, if fraught, woman whose four under-six-year olds ran, skipped and collided with each other and with us around the conked out vehicle.
And today on the train returning from Sheffield:
As I was propelled at high speed, in reverse, past the giant red tomblike railway arches of Deansgate, the evening sun strobing through each one into my eyes, a searing, shocking soundtrack assaulted my ears with Coil's now-deceased Jhon Balance shouting "EVERYTHING'S BACKWARDS, EVERYTHING'S BACKWARDS, EVERYTHING'S BACKWARDS' over and over again.
Naturally, all these things made an impact on me. Watch this space on the MPhil/PhD.
Sunday, April 27, 2008Rogation - The Parson's Condescending
CHAP. XXXV. The Parson's Condescending.Reasons to Rogate - from The Country Parson, by George Herbert. And for all those reasons, I'll be doing that this week, around here.
Saturday, April 26, 2008All absence is presence, and all presence is absence
Often I tryNot everyone's idea of a great Saturday morning, but definitely mine. A seminar led by Rod Garner entitled With and without God: the religion and poetry of George Herbert & R.S.Thomas denied me a lie-in today, and it was hard work, required constant attention, but was well worth it. I suspect that Rod included Herbert in his programme to lever in some punters unfamiliar with R.S., but of course for me it was Thomas who was the draw.
Rod began the day by explaining that in R.S. Thomas, prayer embraces the sense of "the divine absence and presence being the same thing". "All absence is presence," Rod said, "and all presence is absence. If you don't get that then you won't get R.S. Thomas' poetry at all."
At this point I could have sworn that I heard footsteps and the lecture room door closing behind me, though perhaps it was just someone deciding to stand outside for air before returning to the deep interior. This person would have missed Rod then explaining the presence-absence simultaneity by describing a Nick Hornby scene, where a young man nestling against his sleeping lover - thoroughly present to her - realises that one day she will no longer be there. And one alert seminar participant then added a reflection on the strong presence of the lost loved one so often experienced by the bereaved. And this was just the first three minutes of the 150 we shared. Great stuff.
There is no other sound
R.S. Thomas, In Church
Friday, April 25, 2008Maine Road pilgrimage Luther King House last night; so a post-breakfast stroll today through Platt Fields Park and the back alleyways of Moss Side, in pilgrimage to Maine Road.
Maine Road #1: flattened for 400 houses
Maine Road #2: I once had a pre-match hot dog on this spot
Moss Side alleyway: the only sign of City here
Platt Fields and church
Words on Wilmslow Road
Wednesday, April 23, 2008England is Rich England is Rich. He was following Defoe whose three volume travel book, Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain was published between 1724 and 1727, and whose travels caused him to exclaim,
In travelling thro' England, a luxuriance of objects presents it self to our view: Where-ever we come, and which way soever we look, we see something new, something significant, something well worth the travellers stay, and the writer's care.The countries which Hopkins celebrated - and Defoe before him - were Englands in flux, and both writers embraced the changes they saw...
A F T E R W O R DIt's a rhetorical question because Hopkins, heartened by the ability of the English to constantly reinvent ourselves, went on to say that 'Travel in England is, on the whole, reassuring. The tree grows, as always, from its roots - and its roots are vigorous and strike deep.' I like to think of the present-day English people's quiet, tenuous reclamation of a national day of celebration as one sign of that tree's gentle growth, and I suspect that those who might emulate Hopkins fifty years on could also come to the same conclusion:
...having travelled the land, and made so small inventory of some of its riches, he need display hardly less cause for confidence in its future.
Monday, April 21, 2008That's the spirit
They mortgaged the city of Liverpool to build this brick wall. I was fascinated to watch Channel 4's Time Team special on Liverpool, where the BigDig has uncovered 'The massive brick-built wall of the Old Dock, the world's first commercial wet dock.'
They mortgaged the city of Liverpool to build this brick wall. That's the bit of the story which most grabbed me. The Liverpool Corporation mortgaged its entire portfolio of land and property to finance the scheme, a unique rectangular pool, contained by huge brick-built walls, covering about one and a half acres, which could accommodate 100 or so ships at any time. Some gamble, that. Which they weren't to know then, as we do now, would pay off handsomely, demand rapidly exceeding capacity as the port grew in activity and wealth during the 18th century.
'This led to the construction of further docks,' says the Time Team website, 'eventually covering a seven-mile stretch of waterfront, and the increasing size of the vessels entering the port gradually rendered the Old Dock redundant. Without it, though, and without the corporation's vision in arranging its construction, Liverpool would never have achieved the prosperity it was to enjoy from the 18th century onwards, nor become Britain's principal port in its heyday of empire.'
Fearless, foolish, lavish, innovative... wow, that's the spirit of the place.
Pic: Channel 4, Time Team
Sunday, April 20, 2008Energy is eternal delight a Blakean Day in Chester. Roy has also found an excellent picture too, by Blake himself, of a bloke strolling energetically about in a large floppy hat.
Saturday, April 19, 2008Drink the long draught, Dan
I wrote about what was around me; that was the whole point - to get down the experiences, scenes, people, etc. But some people are so daft they don't understand that writing about Prestwich is just as valid as Dante writing about his inferno.In Renegade; The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith the master contrarian devotes just five pages to 'disgruntled ex-Fall members' because 'you can read all that shit everywhere else' (undoubtedly true, and Dave Simpson is due to publish a whole book on the subject later this year) and also because 'I say to everybody who enquires about this side of The Fall - do you work with the same people you worked with ten years ago?'
Instead this book (which I picked up from the shop this afternoon and am already halfway through) is full of clear-eyed insight and tarred-finger wisdom like that quoted above. About reading the everyday. About a very specific work ethic. About the mystical in the mundane. Of course writing about Prestwich is just as valid as Dante writing about his inferno. Mark E. Smith: one of the most rooted inspirational figures of this or any time.
Friday, April 18, 2008Turning The Place Over
Disappointed with myself that I forgot to encourage my Wokingham friends (exiled Scousers) to take a look at Richard Wilson's brilliant Turning the Place Over on their visit this week. They'll have to come again before the end of the year. Liverpool Biennial described it as 'The most daring piece of public art ever commissioned in the UK' - well, they would, wouldn't they - but in this case they could be right.
Wilson has sliced a circle from the side of the old Yates Wine Lodge building (Cross Keys House, on Moorfields) and attached it to a pretty impressive piece of mechanics which rotates the massive glass/metal/concrete disc through 360 degrees (on various planes) in cycles of just over two minutes. There are few passers-by here, because folks can't fail to stop to wonder at this creation. It is a unique and awe-inspiring piece of public art. Click here to watch Turning The Place Over on YouTube, and here to see an equally engrossing film of people's First Impressions of the thing.
Thursday, April 17, 2008A preparation for a better life
Despite being criticized in recent years for ... having turned to 'effective' rather than 'aesthetic' football (especially at the 1994 World Cup in the US), it is probably still Brazil who keeps the popular image of the Latin American 'ball artists' alive - largely thanks to a few particularly gifted and charismatic players like Ronaldo or Ronaldhino. ...
[There] are historical differences in how to play the game. The Argentinian coach Cesar Luis Menotti even turned these differences into political ones when he offered his concept of a 'left-wing' vs. a 'right-wing' football. By the former, he meant football that "celebrated intelligence and creativity" and "wanted the game to be a festival"; by the latter, football in which "only the result counts and in which the players are degraded to mercenaries employed to gather victory and nothing but". In one of his most famous quotes he summed up his understanding of football as: "Football has to fulfill the functions of art - it has to be like a good movie, a good song, a good poem, a good painting: it has to prepare us for a better, more just, more humane life," Ironically, Menotti's notion of a left-wing football stands in sharp contrast to what was traditionally often hailed as the working class virtues of the sport: 'discipline', 'determination', 'strength'. A bohemian radical notion vs. a proletarian one?I knew it would be worth buying The Anarchist Football Manual, for paragraphs like these. It also offers some insight into why footy appeals to the anarchist tendency - in the U.S. especially where it is an 'alternative', 'outsider' sport. The Manual also brings back to the surface the hidden history of women's football, with the story of the celebrated Dick, Kerr's Ladies attracting a record 53,000 to a locked-out Goodison Park on Boxing Day 1920 for a 4-0 win over St Helen's Ladies, a number far higher than for any men's games at that time. This situation triggered the FA ban on women's football a few months later, which the Anarchist Football Manual describes as 'a blatant and shameless patriarchal move' in a political culture still being shaken and stirred by the Suffragettes.
Back to Menotti's quote, though. Nothing festive or memorable at Goodison tonight, in a tired end-of-season display against a crew of degraded mercenaries. I'd be thirty quid better off and surely more prepared for a better life if I'd stayed home instead, to carry on reading the anarchists, and Menotti, and all about Dick, Kerr's.
Wednesday, April 16, 2008Tom and Chelsea: listening to the questions Broadcasting House had two local fifteen year olds Tom and Chelsea interviewing the Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe on policing in the area. The programme editors gave Tom and Chelsea plenty of time and they and Hogan-Howe treated the young people's questions with respect, so a decent, generous and authentic-sounding conversation ensued. I've spent this evening splicing it together with an Iona song, which I'll use to open a community prayer gathering on Saturday morning. Because I reckon that the best - perhaps the only truthful - form of prayer is listening.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008The 96 and the 39, and the silence
Nineteen years, now, since the carnage at Hillsborough where 96 people died in a crush on the Leppings Lane terrace. The city will fall silent at 3.06 and at that time I'll be walking the road which leads to Anfield and thinking about the one who died that day who I knew and the other friends I have who survived being there, though deeply damaged by the tragedy.
When Liverpool fans face us Evertonians in a derby match the spirit is quite different from today's, and as they chant "Liiiiiiverpoool .... Liiiiiiverpoool" we drown it out with "Muuuuuurderers ... Muuuuuurderers" as a reminder that there's two stadium disasters associated with their club (and our city), and that the other one (Heysel, 29 May 1985) can't be blamed on external factors - 39 Italians died in a crush caused by fans retreating from violent attacking Liverpool supporters.
Silence wears many faces. Today's silence will be one of solemn respect, shared by all in our city moved by the loss of the innocents that sunny Saturday afternoon a generation ago. Our Evertonian chant is distasteful, of course, but it does at least break the silence which has persisted in the Liverpool club and the city as a whole, over Heysel. I don't think that those most affected by Hillsborough will ever be wholly healed as long as their lingering questions about what happened that day go unanswered (ie, official silences remain unbroken); neither will our city be fully grown until we gain the confidence to accept the significance of what our people did in Belgium that night four years earlier, and begin to deal wholly with it.
Poem: W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues, as inscribed on the monument at the new Heysel stadium which commemorates the 1985 disaster.
Sunday, April 13, 2008The Rerum Novarum and International Workers' Day
"... we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen's guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization took their place. Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the labouring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself."Researching Ascension (and realising how little theological work has been done or liturgy created to mark that occasion) I was fascinated to discover that Belgium uses Ascension Day to commemorate the Rerum Novarum, an encyclical of Leo XIII which addressed the condition of the working classes in terms of 'the rights and duties of Capital and Labour'. It was composed in 1891, as suggested by the language of the above quotation, but look again at the situation it describes: it could have been written today.
As this year Ascension Day falls on May 1st, International Workers' Day, these festivals might be celebrated together worldwide. I like the possibilities suggested by this connection, around the 'lifting up of the lowly' (to quote another very human heavenly body, God's mum), about the labouring poor now being able to state (with the Heidelberg Catechism) that 'we have our flesh in heaven'...
Saturday, April 12, 2008God has given us this leisure Deus Nobis Haec Otia Fecit - God has given us this leisure. The city of Liverpool’s original motto, and one I'm always happy to affirm. So whilst ostensibly participating in a diocesan AGM in Liverpool Cathedral this morning I was also enjoying flicking through a copy of the latest Liverpool 08 Events Guide which I'd picked up on my way in. The greatest treasure I discovered within its sixty pages (April to June - so much to see and do!) was a feature about the Singh Twins.
The work of Liverpool's Amrit and Rabindra Singh always delights, and their two commissions for the city's culture celebrations look - on paper, and I've since discovered, online - wondrous. Time for a visit to St George's Hall and the new Bluecoat to take a closer look, but in the meantime...
... here's a detail from Liverpool 800: The Changing Face of Liverpool which is the Singh Twins' creative restatement of the city's coat of arms to document aspects of our history and achievements, and our current status as an arts-and-culture centre. I imagine that there's a booklet available at St George's Hall explaining the significance of all the details; their website has a page which does that, and - just like everything the Singhs do - it's an education and a provocation and a delight.
Here, Triton is wearing ballet shoes and an Atomic Kitten badge; Neptune is bearing tattoos representing such Merseyside commercial and cultural 'firsts' as the world's first Boy Scout Troop (founded in Birkenhead, 1908) and the world’s first passenger railway line (built by the Liverpool & Manchester Railway Company, 1830). Some may blanch at seeing the mighty sea god displaying a British Rail logo, but God has given them an exuberant imagination, those Singh Twins, and that gives their audience so much pleasure.
Pic: Singh Twins
Thursday, April 10, 2008Travel: work worth doing
Seemed to me that the Wise Traveller blog needed a bit of a stir today so I posted an entry called Travel: work worth doing which won't contain much which is new to regular readers here, but hey, bear with me, it's been a long week.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell meBy Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian, Nazi resister, written weeks before his martyrdom on April 9, 1945.
The Unite Against Fascism website is here.
Tuesday, April 08, 2008The Anarchist Football Manual and other forthcoming reads AKUK booklist to buy just one item and, hours of fascinated surfing later, I'm ordering The Anarchist Football Manual, The Hardcore/Punk Guide to Christianity and various other excitements, in addition, hopefully, to the thing I first set out to look for... now, what was that thing?
Monday, April 07, 2008Territories Reimagined: International Perspectives
I'm currently thrilling to the lineup for June's TRIP conference, ie Territories Reimagined: International Perspectives, 'A psychogeography festival in Manchester, 19th - 21st June 2008'. And also to some of the planned events - especially perhaps Frank Kickball Jesus presents 3-sided psychogeographical football: US v UK psychogeographers in a match played under the Mancunian Way. (Frank’s allegedly done this kind of thing a lot in the US). My pulse is also racing for a different reason, having seen the cost of the thing - but it's shaping up like it'll be well worth it.
Sunday, April 06, 2008When you think you're walking away.... When you think you're walking away.... A take on the Emmaus Road story, today.
Friday, April 04, 2008Is it thank you? I'm still in the clothes I woke up in, because once I opened up Simon Armitage's new autobiographical collection Gig, I couldn't close it again until I'd finished. So I've spent a day with the Marsden poet and his thoroughly entertaining reflections on a life in performance: from his prepubescent days as a call-boy in shows of the Marsden Operatic and Dramatic Society which his grandparents co-founded, to youthful fantasies of rock stardom (unfulfilled), via many excellent stories of gigs seen or missed, or - as a poet - given with varying degrees of success, descriptions of his work as a lyricist in various collaborations, and finally to his recent musical renaissance as one-half of a band called The Scaremongers.
All good stuff, not least because it's so deeply rooted in Marsden, Huddersfield, Manchester - places where he has spent most of his 45 years (punctuated by three years' homesickness at Portsmouth University) - and he traces his cultural references from a very specific geographical trig point: 'Standing on top of West Nab, I can look across a huge circumference of inspiration and influence,' he writes, and takes a page describing the places he sees from there and the giants associated with them: Manchester and Lancashire with its Morrissey, Mondays, Fall, Merseyside with its Bunnymen and Teardrops, Sheffield's Comsat Angels, Barnsley's Kes, Wakefield's Barbara Hepworth and Mystery Plays and Be-Bop Deluxe, Leeds' Bennett, Harrison, Henry Moore, Bradford's Hockney and Priestley, Humberside's Larkin, and - closer to home - Pennine towns which recall Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. You can see from that list (incomplete) how a young man who approached his father in trepidation one day to tell him, "Dad, I think I'm a poet", had all the raw material in his eyes and ears and northern heart to make a fist of it, which is what he has of course done, brilliantly.
I warm to Armitage firstly because he writes as a poet with a terrific turn of phrase; and secondly because he's of the same vintage as I am, and has been on a very similar musical journey. He writes of the pre-eminence of The Fall: 'If you don't like them, you're wrong'; he has an ambivalence about - though growing appreciation of - Bob Dylan; he affirms Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as one of the greatest rock albums of all time: 'thirty years later, it still sounds like tomorrow'. And he's honest enough to share the story which is also mine, of having spent most of his first few years in music building up an embarrassingly large collection of prog-rock, 'all wizards and warlocks, goat skulls, airbrushed dreamscapes and ruched purple blouses' ... ' all well and good in itself, but somehow ... irrelevant.'
There's so much in this book to recommend. I like the way that Armitage weaves his father in and out of the narrative, with his taciturn wit constantly bringing the son down to earth:
'There's a word in this poem I've never said in front of my mother before,' I say [pre-empting an expletive at a Poetry Society performance in London].I'm moved by the way he punctuates the narratives with verses, many of them drawn from the tv documentary Songbirds on which he collaborated with women inmates of Downview Prison to create songs, which they each sang on the film, describing their lives. Obviously an important piece of work for Armitage the ex-Probation Officer, the songs are spiky, defiant, and deeply moving.
And finally - I could go on an on, but this will do for now - I love the way that Armitage's wife also features in many of his performances or gig-going incidents, often to outshine him with her excellence. He calls her 'Speedy Sue' from her days in a folk-rock band at Leicester University called Sue and the Speedy Bears, whose achievements eclipsed his own humbler rockist efforts at the time. And when an old friend suggested to him that after many years they have another go at making music together, using the internet to get their band out there (Armitage Senior: 'Thought of a name yet? How about Midlife Crisis?') Simon brings Speedy Sue in for some guest vocals, like these ones here, the opening lines of a song which illuminates the sorts of love, beauty and Pennine edge which fill the whole book:
BOY[The Scaremongers – You Can Do Nothing Wrong (In My Eyes): click to listen]
Thanks Dave for the recommendation; spot on
Thursday, April 03, 2008Going through walls - being really alive
I dreamed that love was a crimeDiamanda Galas opens her new album Guilty Guilty Guilty with a cover of O.V. Wright's Eight Men and Four Women and in characteristic style she rips the bleeding heart out of the song and offers it up so searingly, so starkly that it's hard for the terrified listener to disagree with the blind judges that her love is a heinous crime. Guilty Guilty Guilty is as uncompromising, harrowing and essential as any of Diamanda's previous dark exorcisms. These aren't mere songs, they are vehicles into engrossing, scorching, transformational worlds. Diamanda's done some excellent press too, on the album's release, underground, quality press, naturally:
People say [I speak for the dead], but I don’t know what they mean. [laughs] I’ve felt dead enough in my own life. Not to glamorize it too much.- Diamanda Galas interviewed in the current Arthur Magazine.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008In the (wampum) bag
The book's selling quite well. I've added these quotes to its Lulu page to give a bit more help to online waverers. Tomorrow, the toughest test of all so far: talking about it and quoting from it to a Mothers' Union the other side of town. I tremble in anticipation.