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

    Monday, June 30, 2008
    Embroiled in the global underworld
    A captivating review in this week's LRB, by Neal Ascherson, of Misha Glenny's McMafia: Crime without Frontiers:
    [Glenny] is prepared to be shocked by the brutalities of organised crime, although it takes a lot to shock an experienced, war-scorched reporter like him. But, more important, he is prepared to admit uncomfortable truths. He makes clear that mobs, mafias and global rackets are often performing useful and occasionally vital social functions that no other institution – governments, legal systems, the police, the economy itself – is capable of providing.
    It’s usually assumed that organised crime is a network of unqualified evil: murderous, recklessly greedy, the enemy of all human values and all hopes for better lives. Glenny’s book is a warning against such a simple view. No, big gangsters are not nice people: they get what they want through the threat or ultimate use of violence and blackmail. And it’s obvious that their operations can wreck the lives of millions through addiction or – as in the Balkans or Colombia – through the equipping and financing of local wars. But are the mobs and mafias really Public Enemy Number One? It would be shrewder to call them Government Enemy Number One: they are formations that deprive a state of revenue, of the monopoly of violence and law enforcement, and sometimes of international respect. The public, by contrast, may find them less dreadful – often, in fact, less dreadful than the governments that are supposed to be serving and protecting their citizens.

    For centuries, pamphleteers have played with the fancy that the greatest thieves and murderers are not those dangling from the gibbets but those who sit on thrones or send armies into battle. Reagan’s War on Drugs, as total a failure as George W. Bush’s War on Terror, may indirectly have led to almost as many deaths – by destabilising Colombia, for example. It would be hard to think of any organised crime outfit responsible for a fraction of those two butcher’s-bills, in spite of all the murders of rivals and massacres of disobedient sub-gangs. Consider a monster like Ilya Pavlov, criminal emperor of Bulgaria in the 1990s; or dapper little Dawood Ibrahim Kaskar, who slaughtered hundreds in Mumbai with his bombs in 1993; or Viktor Bout, the globetrotting Russian who is the world’s most dangerous dealer in illegal weapons. These men are mere retailers in death. Governments, as the late Tiny Rowland used to say, are death’s wholesalers.
    Glenny's analysis struck me as transferable to a couple of other things currently on my mind.

    First, the latest TV 'expose' of gun crime among Liverpool youngsters - I bracket the word 'expose' because really BBC's Panorama was little more than a show, with nothing approaching the deep structural analysis of a Misha Glenny. Do our local gangsters provide useful social functions where other institutions fail (discuss...)? How do the guns get to our ten-year-olds and at what stages are government and corporations involved (they will be)? Detail the certain links between gun crime and growing UK poverty and inequality ... etc etc...

    And second, the launch of a very welcome campaign by Christian Aid, challenging corruption in governments, international banks and corporations which greases wheels, lines pockets - and transfers vast amounts of money from the poor to the rich. Bold of Christian Aid to at last get to the heart of the evils sustaining poverty (like tax dodging, a topic addressed in their recent report Death and taxes), just as it's bold of Glenny, one of our last great reporters, to embroil himself in the global underworld.
    Sunday, June 29, 2008
    To open a path
    How about taking one of these lines a day and seeing where it leads you? Francesco Careri's Walkscapes; Walking as an Aesthetic Practice gets off to a good start with this list of actions which, he writes, 'have only recently become part of the history of art', though walking has always been a means by which people have constructed and interpreted their landscapes. More to follow...
    Saturday, June 28, 2008
    Those who wish to be
    "The glittering prizes and endless compromises / shatter the illusion of integrity," says Tommy Saxondale, quoting Rush's Spirit of Radio, a 1979 classic for metallists with philosophical pretensions. In 1979 I would quote this lyric all the time. When I saw this scene again tonight on a DVD of Steve Coogan's excellent series, I shuddered to think that there's quite a lot of Saxondale in me.

    In 1981 I created a poster quoting Rush's Limelight, a critique of the music business which, I felt at the time, might also be transferred to other walks of life:
    Living in the limelight
    The universal dream
    For those who wish to seem.
    Those who wish to be
    Must put aside the alienation,
    Get on with the fascination,
    The real relation,
    The underlying theme

    For a couple of years afterwards people noticing this on my wall would screw up their eyes and, if brave or daft enough, ask me what that was all about. Well, obviously, it describes the opposition between those who wish to seem - happy with living life on the surface - and those who wish to be - who really want to live... y'know... by getting on with the fascination of exploring life in depth ... I'd go on, just like Coogan's Saxondale does so wonderfully naively and unblushingly all the way through the series. I really don't think my philosophy in life has changed much at all since then, just as Tommy's hadn't since his days roadying for 'The Tull'...

    The great thing about Saxondale is that he's the classic self-taught working man, a rodent catcher who quotes Aristotle, a pest controller driven to despair by too much thinking. Relentlessly opinionated and occasionally savingly self-aware, Saxondale is an autodidact who famously affirms, "I don't dance to Dido, dude," then admits straightaway that he's overdone the alliteration. And that you can't actually dance to Dido anyway. Saxondale: I like him a lot, and now I'm facing the realisation that in some ways I'm like him a lot.
    Friday, June 27, 2008
    The spectre absent from the cultural feast
    'Just to the north of Manchester city centre is a patch of grass. Roughly seven acres in size, it is a calm oasis in a city not known for its green spaces. But Angel Meadow is something more. It is where more than 40,000 of Manchester's poor were buried between 1788 and 1816. This is the place where the real cost of Britain's industrial revolution was marked - where the bones and blood of the working class, with their average life expectancy of 17 years, mingle with the soil. They were to be followed by tens of thousands more across the country over the following decades.
    'Yet it is hard to find this story reflected in our museums and galleries, and more widely in the arts - for class is the spectre absent from the cultural feast'

    I'm not sure if Vaughan Allen took part in TRIP2008 last week; he may have done because he runs Urbis and that venue hosted an evening reception for us (lovely canapés, thanks). These words of his in today's New Statesman suggest that he's clued into the sort of narratives that Dav Devalle is bringing to the surface in his work on psychic memory and which some of us shared as we walked the Rochdale Canal with David Haley, enjoying the wildlife but also trying to imagine the working lives of the labourers who'd built these industrial waterways, many dying in the process.

    Allen recalls how 'last year, the cultural world was united by the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade', to the extent that 'failure to examine the story was condemned.' But he goes on to note that those involved in cultural industries 'seem to feel no moral imperative to embrace ... the story of the working-class people of Britain being forced from their land, being forced into the cities, taking their places in the deadly mills of the Industrial Revolution.' He's right - on the whole.

    That would have been a very valid theme for Liverpool 08, arguably far more valid than Klimt, so it's good to see that it's happening in some places in the city (as it did in Manchester last week), albeit places far from the arts/culture mainstream. Under the banner UNIONS/08: A celebration of working lives in Liverpool the TUC and Unite have set up a Radical Route Heritage Trail, which encourages the walker to journey 'through hundreds of years of Liverpool's history, from the 1775 riots and seamen's strikes, the 1911 transport strike and "Bloody Sunday", right up to the present day... to remember the wonderful characters who made our city great and fought for the conditions and benefits that we enjoy today in our working lives.' They have also just closed entries for the Liverpool Working Lives photography competition which has produced gems like this, Child Labourer by Karen Langley. So much to reflect on here.

    Pic: Karen Langley, Child Labourer, from UNIONS/08 website:
    'A very young man making a living as a bricklayer'
    Thursday, June 26, 2008
    Love hurts sometimes

    'Smoke isn't a political magazine,' writes Matt Haynes in the introduction to Issue 12, which arrived here today. 'Smoke is, we like to say, a love letter to London.' Well, love hurts sometimes, as Matt clearly demonstrates here, pretty politically if you ask me. Smoke #12 looks like being another very good issue to savour. And Matt, thanks for the empathy: it's mutual.
    Wednesday, June 25, 2008
    It is not lost. It is wherever it is
    An unexpected invasion of high emotion for me, during Karen Smith's talk at TRIP. She re-engaged me with the work of David Nash and the 25-year journey he took following a wooden boulder which he'd sculpted in woodland above Blaenau Ffestiniog, on its river route downstream. From 1978 Nash documented the boulder’s slow, unpredictable trajectory and changing environment until it reached the sea in 2004.

    When I first discovered what he'd been doing [blog, June 2004] I was greatly moved by Nash's fidelity to the boulder, his dedication to the task of visiting and revisiting and recording the wooden sphere's gradually shifting resting places (as illustrated here).

    Karen quoted Nash writing about the final months of his time with the boulder, his impressions on realising that it had given itself up to the sea:
    Then in November 2002 it was gone. The ‘goneness’ was palpable. The storm propelled the boulder 5 kilometres, stopping on a sandbank in the Dwryd estuary. Now tidal, it became very mobile. The high tides around full moon and the new moon moved it every 12 hours to a new place, each placement unique to the consequence of the tide, wind, rain and depth of water.

    In January 2003 it disappeared from the estuary but was found again in a marsh. An incoming tide had taken it up a creek, where it stayed for five weeks. The equinox tide of March 19 2003 was high enough to float it back to the estuary where it continued its movement back and forth 3 or 4 kilometres each move.

    The wooden boulder was last seen in June 2003 on a sandbank near Ynys Giftan. All creeks and marshes have been searched so it can only be assumed it has made its way to the sea. It is not lost. It is wherever it is. [source]
    It was that last couplet which struck me deeply, unexpectedly, in a Manchester lecture room last weekend. It is not lost. It is wherever it is. Nash's statement of farewell to that object which had been his companion for a quarter of a century does not permit a sense of loss. Rather, the sculptor, the treader of river banks and wader along estuary shores in regular searches for his boulder, is willing to let his creation go, to give it up to its new life, 'wherever it is'. I reckon it must have taken some doing, embracing that attitude after all that effort over all those years. And I'm moved by the generosity in that.
    Pic: David Nash, Wooden Boulder, from Nash's pages on the Annely Juda Fine Art website
    Tuesday, June 24, 2008
    TRIP heads

    One of these heads is mine. Prizes for correct guess. No prizes for insults unless particularly creative. From Phil Smith's performance at The Green Room during TRIP 2008

    Pic by Cheshire Caz from the TRIP 2008 Flickr photostream
    Monday, June 23, 2008
    Sun Songs
    They're asking for it a bit, but in anticipation of this year's August Bank Holiday festival, Greenbelt have launched an online project called Here comes the sun. I couldn't resist the challenge to make a songlist of ten sun-related tracks for my iPod. The result, a psychedelic sunshine freak-out, here. As ever, ask me if you'd like a cd.
    Sunday, June 22, 2008
    Murder of Memory
    Places have particular psychic memories, reckons psychologist Dav Devalle. And these memories 'can serve to shape the ways in which people can be entrapped in places'.

    Sometimes these memories may be about murder; and sometimes memories might be 'murdered' (buried, forgotten, marginalised). And repeatedly in its history, Dav asserts, Manchester has murdered memory.

    In his talk at TRIP 2008 Dav focussed on the story of William Allen, Michael Larkin, and William O'Brien, Irish nationalists executed for killing a policeman during a prison escape, who were hanged on November 23, 1867. The men had been imprisoned for rescuing two leading Irish Republicans, Colonel Thomas J. Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy. Kelly had been declared the chief executive of the Irish Republic at a secret Republican convention, and Deasy commanded a Fenian brigade in County Cork. Wanted men throughout Britain and Ireland, both had been arrested (in Shudehill, Dav told us) for loitering, and later charged with more serious offenses.

    The execution of Allen, Larkin, and O'Brien enlivened the Republican movement and they became known as the Manchester Martyrs. In Dav's account the authorities' decision to bury their bodies in quicklime in Strangeways Prison, was for Irish people the final indignity and an example of the murder of memory. Many decades later, under pressure from the men's families and the Republican movement, and with the help of Canon Noel Proctor, the former Anglican Chaplain of Strangeways, their cremated remains were exhumed and reburied in a mass grave in Blackley Cemetery. Still peripheral to the city's memory there though, still 'murdered'.

    This story is particularly poignant for Dav for it has come to him with his psychic need to interrogate Manchester-Irish history in a search for his own roots. And at this point in Dav's talk (which followed on from mine) I realised that if I'd heard this a year ago then my walk (with Phil Smith on 12 October) from Blackley into Manchester city centre, to the epicentre of the 1996 IRA bomb, could have taken on a very different theme.

    If I'd known then that there's a crumbling Martyr's memorial in St Joseph's Cemetery, Moston, I would not have passed it by unknowingly as we did on our walk. And if I'd heard then that the IRA planted the bomb in the very same area where Kelly and Deasy were arrested over a century earlier, I'd have walked with a very different set of connections, a far more vibrant, more scandalous, more vigorous, sense of the city's psychic memory than I had at the time. Powerful stuff.
    Saturday, June 21, 2008
    Tripped up
    Back from TRIP 2008: Territories Reimagined, International Perspectives, a conference which far exceeded expectations (which were quite high). Very enjoyable and enriching, I'll be blogging some of the details over the next few days. But for starters, here's a link to the paper I gave there this morning: on Walking the M62, obviously.
    Wednesday, June 18, 2008
    One of our Superlambananas is missing

    Feels like the Culture year is warming up nicely now. With the ransom request which has just been made for the missing Superlambanana (one of those pictured above) which is worth, its captors suggest, half a dozen sheep and a few bunches of bananas. A price, I think, worth paying.

    The little Superlambanana is part of a small gathering on Hope Street called A Herd Day's Night and its little pals will be missing it. A spokesman said, “If anyone has seen a 5ft Superlambanana in black and wearing a high-visibility Maghull Developments safety jacket, we’d be grateful if they got in touch.” Me, I reckon it's very close to the end of term now and the little black creature will be back in place before the students go home.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008
    Danger: Void Behind Door
    As long as it won't detract from his production of the ever-excellent Smoke, I applaud Matt Haynes' entry into blogworld with Danger: Void Behind Door. Here's the sort of reason why:
    That evening, though, I remembered something else that had always puzzled me. Whenever I lingered in the booking hall to watch her carefree morning sashay away from the ticket barriers ... there was always a point at which she slipped from direct sight and I had to turn my eyes to the nearby CCTV, eagerly anticipating her arrival inside its fuzzy grey image of lift doors. And here’s the thing: although those doors would have been at most a dozen feet away from the point at which she disappeared, the screen always remained empty for six whole seconds.

    It had, as I say, always baffled me. But now, suddenly, in my emotionally-heightened state, the explanation seemed obvious: at some point between the ticket barriers and the lifts at Lambeth North station, SPACE AND TIME HAD BECOME DISLOCATED. To any - for sake of argument - five-foot-three Scottish brunette making that walk, nothing would seem awry; but to anyone watching, for six whole seconds, she would be… elsewhere. Where? Well, I couldn’t say for sure. But, as I sat there listening to the singing of the tracks and the distant rush of air somewhere down the tunnel to my right, I became convinced that, were I to yank open that small yellow door at the very moment she disappeared, then I would see her, trotting brightly across the eternal black void, mind on other things, still failing to look back.

    Once I’d got home, I left a message on her answerphone, asking her what she thought.

    It’s been nearly ten years now.
    Monday, June 16, 2008
    There's a SuperLambBanana outside our house

    There's a SuperLambBanana outside our house... it's one of the hundred which appeared around the city at the weekend as part of the very wonderful Go Superlambananas project. Keeping the folks amused at the two facing bus stops I ventured out into the middle of Utting Avenue this morning to photograph the colourful Cobanana.

    More on this silliness in the Echo. More on the original (and still best) SuperLambBanana here. Click pics for close-ups.
    Sunday, June 15, 2008
    Crowded, out
    Anyone walking along Lorenzo Drive last Monday had to go round a large crowd of people outside Sayers. It was a crowd of people who had all worked at that factory and had just been made redundant.

    As I'm sure you know, staff at the Sayers factory turned up to work on Monday morning when they were told to leave the site, because their jobs had gone. They had worked their usual month but were then locked out and told that the firm would not be paying their salary. They've now got to wait up to six weeks to receive any redundancy pay from the government.

    So the crowd outside Sayers was a shocked crowd, a stunned crowd, and as time went on an angry crowd too. John Higgins, a bakery workers union organiser told the Echo: 'There was no warning whatsoever. We have an awful lot of angry people. People have been going into work and been sent home.'
    On Crowds: a sermon for the staff of Sayers, today. Archive stuff on Sayers, here.
    Saturday, June 14, 2008
    John Davies protests our ground

    This is what documentary photographer John Davies reckons Otterspool Prom will look like if the planners get their way. He's been making it his business to keep an eye on what's happening to the public open spaces of Merseyside and beyond, and today he took a double-decker busload of us from the Albert Dock on a magical mystery tour of some of them.

    The magic is in sensing the original vision and quality of their creation - Stanley Park, Everton Park, green spaces designed and gifted to the city's people a hundred years apart. The mystery is in how today's citizens are permitting our elected leaders to sell off such valued places without a whisper - as will happen soon to the stretch of green alongside the promenade linking Otterspool to the city (the outcome of a Public Inquiry on these plans is due to be announced by the Secretary of State sometime before 11 July, according to John's project website www.ourground.net).

    John's driver dropped us off on top of Everton Brow to enjoy a great early-summer view over the city, but the way back took us past the decimated Dixie Dean Memorial Playing Fields, where generations of hopeful Deans and Rooneys have practised their art. Latterly the fields became the site of fierce but failed local protests, and now the ubiquitous JCBs churn the ground and drop the precast concrete pillars which will support the North Liverpool Academy on its forthcoming move uphill. Presumably this move is designed to make space for the new anfield football ground, which will also of course rip away a large chunk of Stanley Park from the people.

    So (harking back to yesterday's blog), John's current work illustrates that The Long Good Friday replays itself here in Liverpool, as it also does in Beijing, illustrated later today in a presentation by Ou Ning whose Da Zha Lan Project shows that the Olympic profiteers will go to any lengths to ensure that irreplaceable human heritage habitats get flattened if they stand in the way of their plans (This is the scandal which the British press stumbled onto last week via the involvement of Prince Charles in protests to protect the Ming Dynasty area from the regenerators).

    'They used to call it planning', someone pointedly noted today, and now regeneration and conflict go hand in hand. All quite depressing? Well, bringing proceedings to a close this evening Saskia Sassen made the point that the future for cities like Liverpool (and Beijing, and areas like East London) is when their people regain the capacity to be civic (civic places being where 'no matter what your differences, if you play by their rules all can use them' - like in the NHS and on public transport). Sassen underlined that we must accept that these good civic conditions will inevitably be forged in conflict, like the conflicts generated by the physical and social violence of regeneration economics. So - that John Davies, this John Davies, and even people with other names - we'll keep on in a hopeful struggle.

    Illustration: Otterspool Promenade Impression, Liverpool © John Davies October 2007, from www.ourground.net
    Impression showing impact of planned "Finger-Blocks" on Promenade
    Friday, June 13, 2008
    The Olympics Scam
    In the mornings, there is a clinging, overripe smell that some people say drifts in from the countryside, a folk memory of what these clipped green acres used, so recently, to be. Mulch of market gardens. Animal droppings in hot mounds. The distant rumble of construction convoys. The heron dance of elegant cloud-scraping cranes. Flocks of cyclists clustering together for safety, dipping and swerving like swallows. Hard hats and yellow tabards monkeying over the scaffolding of shrouded towers, the steel ribs of emerging stadia. Early risers, in the privilege of first-use recreation, a smudge of sun burning off the fug of pollution that hangs over a pre-Olympic city, fall into quiet conversation. Ice-cream kiss of almond blossom, bridal abundance of cherry: pink and white. Yellow pom-poms of japonica, horticultural cheerleaders. In a corner, under a high wall that gives away the previous identity of this public park as a decommissioned energy-generating plant, retired workers sway, stiffly and slowly, in t’ai chi ballets.
    Iain Sinclair in scintillating form transgressively circling the blue perimeter fence of the East London area from which locals are now security-barred in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. Tonight instead of going into town to listen to Will Alsop I decided to stay and learn (I imagine) far, far more about art, architecture and the politics of regeneration from Sinclair's article in today's London Review of Books:
    Another film, The Long Good Friday, arrived in 1979, so pertinent in its exposure of the coming land-piracy that it seemed prophetic. It was efficiently directed by John MacKenzie, but the meat of the thing is in Barrie Keeffe’s script, his intimacy with tired ground that is about to be invaded, overwhelmed, rewritten. The advent of Margaret Thatcher was announced, as MacKenzie’s crime fable makes clear, by a slippery handshake of mutually beneficial relationships between local government corruption (‘The new casino’s gone through’), kickbacks to rogue Irish Republicans in the burgeoning construction industry, bent coppers and old-style Kray hoodlums making overtures to the New York Mafia with their lawyers specialising in property and gambling tax. Much of this was documentary refraction: it had happened, it was happening, and it described the future we are now experiencing. According to a persistent urban myth, the gang that robbed the Brinks Mat warehouse at Heathrow on 26 November 1983 quadrupled the estimated £26 million value of the gold bars by investing in riverside regeneration. Swashbuckling capitalism led the way for timid hedge-fund managers and City sharecroppers. The defining image of this era – Bob Hoskins (in the movie) with his sleek pleasure craft moored in St Katharine Docks, Margaret Thatcher schmoozing the Reichmann brothers in Canary Wharf – is the maquette of the proposed marina, the city of towers. A Lilliputian theme park of unimaginable wealth creation. A DIY anticipation of computer-generated presentations for the Olympic wonderlands. ‘Water City’, a new Venice (without the memory-mud of centuries), will rise from the stinking filth of back rivers and green-scum canals.
    Photo: Stephen Gill, from Archeology in Reverse
    Thursday, June 12, 2008
    Flourishing outside regeneration
    The Magical Mysterious Regeneration Tour opened with a documentary film by Peter Leeson called Us and Them, about the community in the Vauxhall (Scotland Road) area. The guys from City in Film who'd sourced this underground masterpiece admitted that on first viewing they thought they were looking at a record of a city in 1945, so devastated was the landscape, so impoverished the children. But this was 1969 and Us and Them is a reminder in luculent monocrome of the social realities of the so-called Swinging Sixties. Here, at the very heart of Merseybeat, was extreme poverty in the raw. Not that those suburbanites speeding through Vauxhall on the newly opened urban superhighways would have noticed.

    Us and Them is a brooding polemic about the inequalities perpetuated by the planners and politicians in a modernising city. Vauxhall's vibrant, gifted children getting little chance to grow their potential in a school system weighted towards the city's wealthier youngsters, Vauxhall's people having suggestions about better housing ignored as, without consulting the residents, the planners carved eight-lane roads and a second Mersey road tunnel entrance right through the heart of the area.

    It was good that Peter Leeson was in attendance tonight, so that we could hear him tell the story of the film himself, and so that we could applaud him for this committed, outstanding piece of work. Better still, the organisers had invited members of the Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council, including some who had appeared in the film, and their contributions to the subsequent debate were memorable. Little has changed for them and their neighbours: still in the lowest one per cent in official indices of deprivation, still being ignored by planners and underfunded by a city council compromised by regeneration targets set by government and subservient to the agendas of private sector 'partners'. Still also proudly Vauxhall people, with strength of character and massive dignity steeped in a strong sense of themselves as a substantial community.

    All that the regenerators in the room could offer the people of Vauxhall (and other sidelined city areas) was the hope that 'trickle-down' from the new city wealth-generators would help. I felt anger rise in me about this: even if the trickle-down theory had any economic credibility (which it doesn't), why should a city's wealth 'trickle' to most of its people while a minority rake it in? And the miserable morphology of the word 'down' - blithely implying that the people of Vauxhall are in some way inferior to those who take the tunnel journey home each weekday.

    Leeson offered Vauxhall something far more substantial: the film itself. Because although it's seldom been seen in any kind of mainstream media outlets, he gifted it to the Vauxhall Neighbourhood Council to use it in their work. And, as more than one of them said, Us and Them has helped a lot, over the years, in getting local people talking about their situation, finding a voice and the confidence to take power into their own hands to change the place for the better. All very peripheral to the Capital of Culture, their work, but none the worse for that. Finding ways to flourish outside regeneration, the people of Vauxhall.

    Picture: Peter Leeson
    Wednesday, June 11, 2008
    Talking walking
    Entering conference season: should be excellent. Next week, three days in Manchester for TRIP 2008, and tomorrow the start of three days here in Liverpool for the Magical Mysterious Regeneration Tour: Artists, Architecture and the Future of the City. They've pulled in a host of excellent participants for this Capital of Culture centrepiece; I'm especially relishing Liverpool historian John Belchem and global cities sociologist Saskia Sassen coming together to discuss City Life: Poverty and Power around the World. I'm also looking forward to the Artist Led Mystery Tour of Liverpool with John Davies and The Art Organisation. As far as I know that's not me, so it must be the other John Davies, photographer of power stations and other post-industrial landscapes. I'll make sure I say hello.
    Tuesday, June 10, 2008
    Arms dealer to run the Census? No thanks

    Sign up to the e-petition here
    Monday, June 09, 2008
    Drowned in beer
    Sadly, I think that Mark Fisher in The Wire has got it mostly right when he slams Mark E Smith's 'autobiography' Renegade: The Lives and Tales of Mark E. Smith as being 'a wasted opportunity - a chance for a skewed social history, for Smith to actually do some writing, drowned in beer...'

    Fisher reckons that besides a bit about Smith's interest in the work of Arthur Machen, there's little insight here: 'the wierd stuff is kept contained, for fear of disrupting the pubbish levity'. I reckon that there's actually quite a bit more than that in Renegade (see blog of April 19), particularly insights into Smith's sense of place, and values which are deeply rooted in his admiration of male working class role models like his dad and men he worked on the docks with as a youngster. But the erratic, uneven and rambling Renegade is clearly the product of a series of beery interviews in Prestwich boozers. There's no escaping the validity of Fisher's criticism, that 'Renegade isn't a book, not really. It isn't written, not even by a ghost. It's a transcript of some comedy routines and some spiteful stabs familiar to anyone who has read a few interviews with The Fall.'

    Fisher reckons that Smith has fallen into the trap of personality and become obsessed with being the 'clever prole in a pub'. The great strength of The Fall is the way the music is an excellent channel for - the brilliant fruit of - Smith's 'working class autodidactism'. Given the deviant style of the music I guess that the book was always going to be anomalous, but I share Fisher's disappointment that it could have been a lot more substantial than it is.
    Sunday, June 08, 2008
    Priestly Duties - almost exhausted
    .... What should a priest be?

    Accessible and incorruptible
    abstemious, yet full of celebration
    informed but not threateningly so
    and far above the passing soufflé of fashion

    What should a priest be?

    An authority on singleness
    Solomon-like on the labyrinth of human sexuality
    excellent with young marrieds, old marrieds,
    were marrieds, never marrieds, shouldn’t have marrieds,
    those who live together, those who live apart,
    and those who don’t live anywhere

    respectfully mindful of senior citizens and war veterans
    familiar with the ravages of arthritis,
    osteoporrosis, postnatal depression, anorexia,
    whooping cough and nits ....

    .... What does a priest do?

    Mostly stays awake at Deanery synods
    tries not to annoy the Bishop too much
    visits hospices, administers comfort
    conducts weddings, christenings -
    not necessarily in that order -
    takes funerals
    consecrates the elderly to the grave
    buries children and babies
    feels completely helpless beside
    the swaying family of a suicide ....

    Having now twice preached ordination-day sermons for friends both utilising Stewart Henderson's wonderful extended poem Priestly Duties - albeit events separated by three years and 150 miles - I think I'll have to come up with something different next time. Pity, I love it.
    Saturday, June 07, 2008
    Ohhh ... the rocks the rocks the rocks
    The poem physically moved me. That is to mean, the poem actually impacted on my body. Not just an emotional thing, this poem literally moved through me as I sat, thrumming up through my rump, my guts, my spinal cord and jangling my nerve ends from the inside-out.

    In Iona's Marble Quarry last week shamanic teacher Alastair McIntosh clambered onto the stone on which I was sitting, to address one hundred pilgrims gathered beneath the high, rough-sculpted walls hemmed in by the sea. His subject: the sacredness of the living rocks, three billion years old, beneath our feet. His mission: to call on them, to awaken their latent life to us, to awaken us to them. His poem: Invocation (as published in the collection Love and Revolution).

    At his feet, my head down investigating a red stone in my hands, I could not see the teacher inhale. But I felt it... A long silence in which he seemed to be drawing all the air from the vessel of that quarry, into his lungs, into his frame, into his soul. Two hundred eyes on his mouth, one hundred hearts drawn towards his coming utterance.

    And then the release, through Alastair's mouth, of a long, loud, low moan: OHHHHH... (the printed word does no justice to it). OHHHHH... in the quarry one hundred jaws dropped and hearts skipped. OHHHHH... A moan of such intensity that the shaman shook, the rock on which he stood vibrated, and on from there into my quaking body, up through my nerve-ends, came the poem...

    Ohhh ... friends we call across the seas to you from echo chamber of the soul
    we call now stirred by rhythm that you drum
    We call upon the triple billion year old songlines of world’s oldest rock
    “I lift a stone; it is the meaning of life I clasp” - says the bard MacDiarmid
    So let us honour stone. Let us call afresh the foundational litany:
    The Lewisian Gneiss ...
    The Cairngorm pegmatites and sparkling Aberdeenshire granite
    The Old Red Sandstone
    The Durness limestone sequences and Bathgate’s forest Carboniferous
    The Tertiary radiating basalt dykes from great volcanoes Mull and Raasay
    The Sgurr of Eigg and Ailsa Craig
    The idle pebbles...
    tossed to and fro, round and round, inwards outwards
    dark moon full moon vortexing on today’s high tide at noon
    Ohhh ... the rocks the rocks the rocks
    we call on you ...
    Rise up from sleep sunk strata beds!
    Giant women, wizened men, totemic creatures once laid down to be our hills
    Wake up! Wake up! Wake up and waulk this Earth in us!
    ... bring back the land within the people’s care
    ... bring back the care to touch from hand to land

    Marble Quarry, Iona: Graham Proud (Wiki Image, Creative Commons licence)
    A fuller version of Invocation features as part of Alastair's extended poem, The GalGael Peoples of Scotland, online here
    Friday, June 06, 2008
    My contribution to the guest concert on Iona's Greenbelt week.
    Based on a real incident.
    The sculpture Fallen Christ by Ronald Rae can be viewed here.
    And, poignantly, here.
    I hope he'll forgive my flippancy.