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

    Thursday, July 31, 2008
    Paradoxical Undressing
    ... Cool place
    I'm amazed
    You rock me into space
    You put cake
    Down my throat
    And in my face
    What can I give you
    What can I take ...

    Bring on the summer! I've been enticed to the Edinburgh Festival for the very first time by the prospect of seeing Kristin Hersh performing her new, unique show, Paradoxical Undressing. Very few other artists would take me 224 miles out of my way on an August evening, but very few other artists are like Kristin...

    Paradoxical undressing is the removal of clothes, blankets, or other coverings by those suffering severe hypothermia. This behavior is not fully understood. Kristin Hersh is an introvert. She is extraordinarily shy. Paradoxically, she is known as an artist for her sometimes brutal emotional honesty and openness. "Paradoxical Undressing" by Kristin Hersh is a live spoken word project incorporating film, music and essays. The show will feature excerpts from Kristin's upcoming memoir, "Paradoxical Undressing" read by the artist, with musical accompaniment. The show tells the story of a teenage girl wrestling with issues of extreme creativity, mental illness, pregnancy and life in the music business as founder of seminal American indie rock band Throwing Muses.
    Tuesday, July 29, 2008
    The vagrant and the pilgrim on the M62
    Paul generously dropped me an email today to introduce me to the work of Shaeron Caton-Rose, an artist who sited a series of 'wayside shrines', one at each service station along the M62, in 2005. Her website features pictures of these and a video piece 'documenting the journey from Hull to Liverpool, and vice versa, stopping at each service station to view the shrines along the way'.

    It was W.H. Davies, in his poem Leisure, who created the lines, 'What is life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?' Davies was a vagabond writer, whose books described his shambolic journey through a life of extreme and intentional squalour. Interesting, then, that Shaeron chooses Davies's words as her signature phrase as she hopes 'to highlight' [to motorway travellers] 'the need for space and time out that busy contemporary schedules such as the need to get from a to b as quickly as possible, do not always allow for'. And so an interesting tension emerges in her project: the tension between the traveller-as-vagrant and the traveller-as-pilgrim.

    Of these travellers the former, epitomised by the self-proclaimed 'super-tramp' Davies, makes a virtue of excessive leisure, spends plenty of time in loitering, turns stopping into an art form. The latter only stops for a reason, to take 'time out' to visit the shrine. It's a devotional reason as it happens but it makes the pilgrim's journey look very like any other contemporary motorway traveller's, ie, 'a need to get from a to b' [from shrine to shrine] 'as quickly as possible', stopping at the service stations for some form of respite.

    Shaeron's video reinforces this idea, as she fast-forwards the road journey and slows the frames down as the traveller approaches each service station, the camera coming to rest at the shrine installed there. Accompanying the rapidly-moving road images is an ear-splitting squeal of speeded-up digital motorway sound; by contrast the shrines rest in silence. Shaeron has opted to convey a very particular type of pilgrimage - one which is concerned solely with marker-posts and arrival-points. The journey itself is subordinate, it lacks significance, it is subsumed into the story of the shrines.

    So at these shrines the pilgrim claims the vagrant's perspective, but is aligned with the contemporary motorist in the rush from a to b. Maybe it's not a tension. Maybe it's a fascinating connection. It'll be interesting to hear from Shaeron what people on the road said they experienced at her shrines.

    Sunday, July 27, 2008
    Alternative Superlambanana trail

    An alternative Superlambanana trail - a Liverpool city centre walk on Friday 8 August.

    The city is currently full of Superlambananas so we will see where a trail of a giant outline of the beast may lead us.

    We will meet at the Steble Fountain opposite Lime Street Station at 11.00.

    Would you like to join us? Let me know, or just turn up. And feel free to invite others.
    Saturday, July 26, 2008
    By no means grey

    Arrangement in Turquoise and Cream by David Helpher, the first image which greets visitors to Grayson Perry's Unpopular Culture exhibition at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, and a typically engaging example of what's on offer.

    It's not a photograph, it's a painting, you discover when you see it close up. It's a record of what Britain began to look like in the years following the Second World War, and still looks like in many places, and it celebrates its subject with a gentle beauty.

    I spent an enjoyable afternoon at The Harris yesterday, looking at the originals of works I'd already got to know a bit through reading Perry's exhibition catalogue, appreciating his selection of photographs, figurative paintings and sculptures which offer 'a picture of British culture when life was slower and when, maybe, we were more reflective, more civic, and more humane', as he puts it.

    Perhaps the selection is as much confirmation that Perry himself is a reflective, civic, and humane artist. Unpopular Culture requires the viewer to work pretty hard to appreciate what's on display - like you have to do for instance when facing David Helpher's tower block, trying to make yourself get beyond the initial negative response to a sight which convention has always told you to ridicule or revile, and like you have to do with the many modernist sculptures which one cruel reviewer described as 'grim bronze turds'.

    Perry's chosen artists 'make a virtue of grey as only a Briton can', he writes, but he has selected them for 'an attractive humility and elegance... which I wish to celebrate'. The sculptures, he says, he principally associates with 'childhood trips to concrete new towns and their architecture of catastrophic optimism. Each bronze is to me an evocation of a guano-spattered plinth on a windswept shopping centre. It was modern art in a public place with no agenda of regeneration.'

    A photo by Tish Murtha from her series Youth Unemployment in the West End of Newcastle, 1980-81 shows youths playing in a derelict tenement. The obvious response to this stark monochrome print would be dismay, we might categorise these young people's lives in terms of boredom or pointlessness. But the mood of Perry's collection makes you look again.

    Here, two boys jump fifteen feet from a frameless window onto a stack of five old mattresses. Three younger boys are enjoying a privileged vantage-point from a broken wall they've scrambled to, ten feet up. Another boy is climbing up that wall, and a cluster of other children, boys and girls, stand below, rapt with attention at the extemporized circus show before them. Entering the picture, left, is a boy carrying a ventriloquist's dummy which perhaps he has salvaged from an empty property, or maybe is his personal pride and joy. Once the high-jumping has ended perhaps the crowd will be treated to the ventriloquist's act.

    I learned a lot by spending time with that picture. There is no boredom here. In the debris which is these youngsters' playground there is innovation and playfulness. Look more closely, look again: it's by no means grey, unpopular culture.
    Thursday, July 24, 2008
    Motorway links
    Nice to make connections. I've been doing this all week revisiting the M62 via:

    (a) a visit from Nicky, a researcher from the makers of Drive Time who was interested in many, many aspects of motorway life including walking;

    (b) a drive to M62 J32 today en-route to a very good conversation with Henry about the road and what I've gained from my journey along it;

    (c) last night revisiting with Andy a very vivid night on the M62 route, not blogged about at the time, which I spent in a posh pub west of Hull with a group of friends gathered on the occasion of the burial of the ashes of one of their own, who it turned out I have all sorts of deep links with too, via Greenbelt; and

    (d) making contact with The Manchester Zedders who have spent some of their time over the past year wandering about Boggart Hole Clough, just as I have.

    The Zedders write about their craft: ‘A-to-Zedding is much more than just a hobby. It’s an intellectual, spiritual and deeply personal pastime. The A-to-Zedder’s dream is to visit and gain a deep understanding of every “square” in their chosen A-Z map.' Lovely.
    Wednesday, July 23, 2008
    No Magic Man
    No Magic Man by Sunburned Hand of the Man. It's thrilling. Would have been on my Psychedelic Sun Songs list except I'd have had to include all eleven tracks and they only allow ten.
    Tuesday, July 22, 2008
    Against taken-for-granted truths
    Here's what I was leading up to with yesterday's unapologetically dense quote from Foucault - an argument with the Liturgical Commission, the bods who write the books we have to use in church services. Today I was in a meeting considering representations we might make to them, we who want to try to use words in our services which are at least remotely accessible and understandable to the people we share them with. Here's an extract from the Liturgical Commission's Commentary on Initiation Services:
    In framing these services a sharp distinction has been drawn between, on the one hand, the language and phrasing that could reasonably be put into the mouth of parents, godparents, sponsors and congregation and, on the other, a richer use of biblical types and allusions in presidential texts.
    In other words, in any service of this kind only the church leaders ('presidents') have the facility to use 'rich' language, so best keep it simple for the bits spoken by the plebs in the pews.

    This is the sort of hegemonic thought that Foucault was on about. In the Liturgical Commission it is taken for granted that the direct and grounded language of ordinary people is incapable of richness and complexity. The Commission's notes continue:
    Some would also argue that the risk of losing people by esoteric language needs to be balanced by the danger of patronizing them by simplistic wording.
    Some truth in this, but what is really patronising is the underlying assumption that straightforward, direct and grounded language is 'simplistic', ie simple-minded, inferior. As the liturgies of the Iona Community have demonstrated for decades now, it is perfectly possible for the word structures of ordinary everyday life to express the faith in the deepest, most mystical, wondrous - and engaged - ways.

    Like their peers in government, business, arts and the media*, so also the church bosses do this all the time: write off the cultural and political expressions of people unlike them (usually the working class), without much consciousness that this is what they're doing. This was brought home to me recently on rereading Joe Hasler's critique of the similarly-flawed document Mission Shaped Church (first blogged about here). That unjustly influential book validates a concept of 'mission' based on the idea that 'we' live in an increasingly 'networked' society and thus church mission should move away from geographical ('parish') bases into 'network' forms of expression.

    Clearly 'we' means the mobile professional classes, though the report does not overtly acknowledge this. And in ignoring the cultures of other classes - eg the less mobile working classes - it misses out on far richer and more relevant analyses. As Joe points out, working class life and culture also expresses itself through complex networks of family, work and community, but the report is silent on this. (And equally, the professional classes are far more attached to 'place' than the report cares to acknowledge).

    In his perceptive critique of Mission Shaped Church John Hull wrote, in words which would equally apply to the Liturgical Commission's comments above, that '[these criticisms] would not matter ... if the partisan nature of [this] perspective were acknowledged, but it is not. The Report thus leaves little or no imaginative space for otherness, and thus represents one more example of the central control exercised by the national church for centuries. It is this taken-for-granted truth of what is really a particular point of view that dominates and stifles.'

    [1] *See also my blog on Tricky / Mark Fisher of July 15.
    [2] Sorry about the religious rant; quite out of character. I'll blog about something more life-affirming tomorrow, perhaps the thrilling No Magic Man by Sunburned Hand of the Man
    Monday, July 21, 2008
    Making conflicts more visible
    Criticism consists in uncovering [hegemonic] thought and trying to change it: showing that things are not as obvious as people believe, making it so that what is taken for granted is no longer taken for granted. To do criticism is to make harder those acts which are now too easy. Understood in these terms, criticism (and radical criticism) is entirely indispensable for any transformation. ... To say to oneself from the start, ‘What is the reform that I will be able to make?’ – that’s not a goal for the intellectual to pursue, I think. His role, since he works precisely in the sphere of thought, is to see how far the liberation of thought can go toward making these transformations urgent enough for people to want to carry them out, and sufficiently difficult to carry out for them to be deeply inscribed in reality. It is a matter of making conflicts more visible, of making them more essential than mere clashes of interest or mere institutional blockages.
    - Michel Foucault from Power, Essential Works of Michel Foucault 1954-1984 Vol.3 , quoted at the front of Chris Allen's Housing Market Renewal and Social Class. Promising, then...
    Sunday, July 20, 2008
    Adam and Eve and other disputes
    Is Genesis 1-11 irredeemably sexist?: well, yes, unfortunately, it pretty much is. The title and the conclusion of an essay I wrote while at theological college, which I used as ballast in a rare foray into controversial sermon territory (my contribution to the present crisis), here today.
    Friday, July 18, 2008
    Getting the sea vision again

    They'll look even more impressive on Monday afternoon, of course, when at the mouth of the Mersey the Tall Ships unfurl their sails and head out into the Irish Sea at the start of their 2008 race to Måløy, Norway (and then on from Bergen to Den Helder, Holland for a grand finale on the 20th August). But standing on Sandhills station this afternoon this was a pretty striking view, the contemporary mess of dockland commerce combining with the high masts of the race's Class A ships. Seventy Tall Ships from all around the world are here this weekend. We see them as symbols of the past but many are modern and all are used for the 'development and education of young people of all nationalities, cultures, religions and social backgrounds through the sail training experience'. This rich picture adds deep perspective to Liverpool's pivotal present.

    Watching the smartly-dressed crew of the Mexican naval training vessel Cuauhtémoc graciously helping passengers on and off their 90.5m barque (named after the last Aztec emperor and built as recently as 1982 in Bilbao, Spain), the thrill of internationalism begins to simmer. Hearing the voices of the hundreds of visitors around me - many languages, many dialects - the claims of Liverpool to be 'the world in one city' cease to sound like shallow PR spin, and the realisation comes that at this dockside, there has always been this mix.

    Strengthening the connections further I recall a recent email from Gill, visiting Mexico, telling me of her discovery of a chain of upmarket department stores called Liverpool; the company's website reveals that the Liverpool stores have an 160 year history and are Mexico's leading department store chain.

    The Tall Ships, in dock, are mightily impressive, but I'm as interested in watching the people visiting them, trying to get a handle on the experience (what's the draw of this event? every time Liverpool hosts it the city is inundated). And what most engages me is a marquee with a British Shipping banner at its entrance. Here, the Chamber of Shipping and Sea Vision UK are working hard to demonstrate to the passing public that maritime life is nothing to get sentimental about, it's thriving today.

    Sea Vision are keen to share their three core messages: our seas are vital to trade, energy, defence, leisure and the environment; the UK maritime sector makes a major contribution to our economy and quality of life; and our maritime industries are modern and high-tech and offer excellent career opportunities. I look around at a dock throbbing with fascinated visitors and the youthful energy of hundreds of Tall Ships staff and volunteers, dock and affiliated workers, I sit outside a mad-busy dock road cafe with a bacon roll and a cup of tea, sharing my table with a couple who've sailed over from Ireland for this weekend's events, and I get it again, the sea vision. Like Liverpudlians (even landlocked ones like me) always have.

    Pics from my Tall Ships, Wellington Dock 2008 Flickr photostream
    Thursday, July 17, 2008
    The Georgian, on Liverpool
    Thumbed a copy of The Georgian inside a Shrewsbury church last Friday. Great issue, being all about the many precious buildings of Liverpool created between 1720 and 1840, some lost, some threatened, and some restored. That's the Huskisson Mausoleum on the cover. My own copy came through the post this week. Recommended.
    Wednesday, July 16, 2008
    Through driving it, I'd come to love the road
    At TRIP I talked a bit about my M62 walk and quoted a few lines from the book in which the motorway itself is described negatively, as a dead space, a corridor of ghostly non-engagement (taking my prompt from the likes of J.G. Ballard for whom the roads are major contributors to society's 'death of affect'). Afterwards Tim Edensor challenged my assumptions, as he does in his paper M6 Junction 19-16: Defamiliarizing the Mundane Roadscape [Space and Culture, vol.6 no.2, May 2003], which I've been reading today:
    It is a popular and academic notion that routine driving along motorways signifies contemporary alienation through a kind of serial "non-space." The author counters these dystopian assumptions about the character of this everyday pursuit by exploring his own experience of driving along England’s M6 motorway, showing how roads are enmeshed within unpredictable, multiple flows of ideas, sensations, other spaces and times, narratives, and socialities. By critiquing notions that autospace is inherently linear and featureless, that driving is asocial and desensitizing, and that the quotidian is a realm of unthinking and automatic behavior, he shows how it is precisely in the realm of mundane space-time that both homely familiarities and imaginative connections can be fostered.
    Tim's paper is a refreshingly original take on driving and the commute, which he describes as everyday practices which 'possess multiple other potentialities' for observing or creating new possibilities. In other words these are far from 'dead' events but rather social activities full of variety and complexity.

    In the paper Tim describes the flora and fauna of roadside verges and other spectacles which the motorway driver sees, each with particular meanings to each individual seeing them; he writes about the variety of liveried wagons and the array of other signs and signals on the road, of 'Eddie Watchers' who will travel miles to 'spot' an Eddie Stobart truck as it passes; he celebrates the truth that all motorists, driving alone, will sometimes resort to behaviour they'd never do elsewhere like face-pulling, singing and shouting and bum-shuffling to the car radio's music (come on, you know you've done it). Tim explains what 'Gouranga' means, and I'm deeply grateful for that as it has foxed me for years as I've passed it, painted on bridges across the M6 in Cheshire, and he spends some time reminiscing about his hitch-hiking days and lamenting the passing of hitchers as a feature of our major roads.

    All of this caused me to revisit my walk and while I still assert that the overriding impression of the motorway to me, a pedestrian wandering inadvisably close to the carriageways, was of the violence of the speeding vehicles, I remember also that I did have many moments of appreciation of the roadway spectacle.

    What's more I now realise that many of the places I felt I just had to put on my itinerary (J31 Wakefield Europort, Pilkington's Tiles near Clifton Junction, St Mark's Church Worsley, Sutton Manor Colliery site) I visited because my curiosity about them had been awoken during my many prior car journeys past them. I now understand more fully that in a sense I chose to walk the motorway because through driving it I'd come to love the road... that's a great revelation and I'll definitely be working at the meanings in the linkages there, in future.

    If you're keen to champion the potential in the ordinary, to seek out the hidden depths in the everyday routine, then that must apply to the experience of driving. Makes perfect sense, and it is great to add that perspective to the motorway mix along with the dystopias and the ghosts.
    Tuesday, July 15, 2008
    Passion, empathy and class-rage from the Council Estate

    Above, an extract from Mark Fisher's keenly perceptive and positive interview with Tricky in this month's issue of The Wire. Fifteen years after Maxinquaye Tricky is very much on-form with Knowle West Boy. Council Estate is a monumental track which demonstrates that Tricky is still brimming with righteous class-rage, supported by Fisher who applauds Tricky's 'timely intervention in a British cultural climate in which a website like chavscum.com can propagate class hate with impunity; in which the BBC's recent White season can treat working class as if it were synonymous with 'white'; and in which the Labour government has long ago given up any pretence of representing a working class that it likes to think has disappeared. New Labour's disdain, suspicion and condescension towards the proletariat it has abandoned is perfectly in tune with the assumptions of a complacently middlebrow mass media, for which the notion of working class intelligence is a contradiction in terms, and for whom working class culture is cast as brutish, brash and populist...'

    Among other stand out songs Cross to Bear demonstrates Tricky's strong empathy with other fascinating, prophetic, outsider figures:

    Monday, July 14, 2008
    Articulating a mystery
    News of a BBC Four documentary series currently in production, called Drive Time:

    One to look out for, especially as this trailer for Citizen Smith really whets the appetite.
    Saturday, July 12, 2008
    History-making mischief
    Drifting around the web from the base of the Working Class Movement Library is often rewarding. And so tonight, a great discovery from Paula Bartley's biography of Emmeline Pankhurst, a chapter which revealed to me an amazing piece of social history about one of the memorable places I encountered on my M62 walk last year, Boggart Hole Clough. In 1896 the public park was adopted by the Independent Labour Party for its meetings and tension rose and attention increased as the Corporation banned the gatherings. Pankhurst got involved, speaking at Boggart Hole Clough on May 21st and May 28th 1896, 'willing to risk imprisonment for the right of free speech by tearing down fences put up to stop the meeting. Like the other protestors, she was summonsed and charged with breaching public order'...

    Boggarts, as you may well know, are mischievous spirits mainly found in Lancashire and Yorkshire, pranksters, agitators, who are prone to reside in damp, mossy places like the park where Pankhurst and her comrades strove to awaken the public to issues of equality and democracy, and where seemingly she caught a bad cold from all that standing around speaking.

    When we wandered through Boggart Hole Clough last October we little imagined that our feet trod the very ground where the tactics had been honed which would be used to great effect in the suffragette struggle: gaining maximum publicity by refusing to accept legal judgements; we little realised that this was the place where Emmeline Pankhurst's star first rose as she pushed herself on to the stage of national politics on her own terms rather than in support of her husband. Boggart Hole Clough: indeed, a place of history-making mischief.
    Friday, July 11, 2008
    Our Salopian Summer
    Severn-side on the streets of Shrewsbury, the high water line may be measured by metre markers, but it's the stains on the red brick walls which tell a frighteningly unambiguous story: this river floods high, hard and often. Upstairs in this Severnside warehouse conversion: the usual luxury apartments. The view through stained and broken ground floor windows, though, is of desolate rooms, muddied, abandoned sites.

    Today Dave, Jim and I meandered around the ancient and very engrossing town of Shrewsbury, fuelled by Salopian ales and (in my case) a grilled steak smothered in Shropshire Blue cheese, sharing the streets and parks with large numbers of young people who may have been six-formers celebrating their last day together at the end of their most significant school term, or were perhaps in town for tonight's much-anticipated Katie Melua gig in the beautiful sweeping Severnside park called The Quarry.

    The gig temporarily altered the way in which Shrewsbury honours its war dead. At the top entrance to The Quarry, a WW2 memorial was surrounded by Andy's Loos, which I guess by the time I write this, will be steaming with the wee of hundreds of Katie fans, the plastic loo doors (tastefully bearing mouldings of Tyrolean mountain scenes) thudding an irregular accompaniment to Katie's gentle crooning.

    In a beautiful little park called The Dingle our thoughts turned from Katie to Sabrina, the goddess of the River Severn whose blessings fell on us today. She looked passive enough on her poolbound pedestal, though maybe that right hand was raised to her ear in the hope of hearing Katie in soundcheck; or perhaps she was listening into the conversations of the many young people who seemed to have decided to make The Dingle their own for the afternoon, couples snuggling together in seats surrounded by colourful floral displays, a group of three girls thrilling to the friendliness of the park's resident ducks and their tiny offspring, one young woman in a long floral print dress dancing barefoot between the decorative fountains.

    Everywhere we went in Shrewsbury we were faced down by three rude beasts: lions with their tongues sticking out. They are the central image on the town's crest, which also bears the motto Floreat Salopia ('May Shropshire flourish'), and which appears all over the place: in metal mouldings on a riverside bridge, on the Library wall beside the statue of a very bookish-looking Salopian Charles Darwin, on the Car Park Pay Stations outside The Guildhall. Only one lion appears on the badge of Shrewsbury Town FC, whose long-time home Gay Meadow, we noticed with some sentiment, has been razed to the ground by the bulldozers of developers intent on creating more waterside apartments for aspirant Shrewsbury folk to relocate to, despite the flood risk.

    Our route around town took us into three very remarkable churches: St Alkmund's with its astonishing Francis Eginton window (currently being restored and so today having one-quarter missing), St Mary's, also remarkable for its glass: a huge 14th century east window depicting the Tree of Jesse, filled with figures of Old Testament kings and prophets. The impressive circular interiored St.Chad’s was busy at the end of a lunchtime piano recital: Shrewsbury's civic church with its memorial chapel for the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and mayor-making traditions.

    Eyes full of wonder at all these glories, our stomachs turning a little queasily at the linkage between war-making and prayer, we sought balance by remembering how we had arrived at Shrewsbury today: by way of Gresford, a Welsh border town some miles north with far fewer pretensions than Shrewsbury to earthly or heavenly glory, an ex-mining town which 74 years ago witnessed a colliery disaster which claimed the lives of 266 miners. We visited the Flash, a deep calm lake populated by many wildfowl where once the pithead buildings stood, and then the colliery disaster memorial, a pithead wheel set in slate in the grounds of Gresford Social Club next to the still-active Gresford Colliery Bowling Club. On the memorial plaque I noticed that a number of the men who died that day were called John Davies.

    Pics from my Shrewsbury July 2008 Flickr photoset
    Wednesday, July 09, 2008
    An opportunity or a dwelling?

    Interesting reading some of the reactions to Chris Allen's book as recorded on his website, accusations of him 'developing a conspiracy theory which involves "ordinary working class people" being disadvantaged by "institutionalised profit making",' accusations of him being on a "crusade". His response seems reasonable to me: 'So if you are evangelical about housing market renewal and vigorously support it then that it an entirely rational position to hold. Yet if you oppose it, you are on a crusade.'

    There's a massive weight of writing supporting the regeneration policies which are currently ripping apart some of the best-established residential areas of most of our major cities [see here]. So it's refreshing - it's essential - to have a weighty, thoroughly researched piece of work providing, as the author puts it, 'an in-depth and lengthy discussion of the politics of how thousands of people are losing their homes. Hardly a trivial matter.'

    It was compelling reading in News From Nowhere for ten minutes this afternoon, but I'm afraid that at thirty quid I'll have to be content to be looking out Chris Allen's book in a library sometime soon*. I hope it's very influential.

    [* Footnote 12/7/08: thanks Pete for buying me a copy - noting too that Chris Allen is donating all royalties from the book to the Fight for Our Homes campaign]
    [* Footnote 23/7/08: thanks also to the generous person who posted me a copy anonymously. It was sent to the old vicarage address, now a private dwelling, so I only received it today.
    As I now have two copies of the book I shall look to pass one on to someone who can make good use of it, including anyone who may like to email me about it]
    Tuesday, July 08, 2008
    Mea Culpa

    A video for Eno/Byrne's groundbreaking Mea Culpa, filmed by Bruce Conner, who died yesterday. From Arthur Magazine, which has thankfully survived a likely-looking extinction (and to celebrate its continuation and invest in its future, I subscribed to it today).
    Monday, July 07, 2008
    Palestinian Walks
    I confess to compassion fatigue about the Palestinian situation. Heard too much, lost a bit of interest if I'm honest. But along comes a book to restore what ought to be a very keen engagement with the situation there: Palestinian Walks; Notes on a Vanishing Landscape, by Raja Shehadeh.

    Shehadeh has been hill walking in Palestine for twenty-six years, and this book describes journeys he's made in that time, in the hills around Ramallah, in the Jerusalem wilderness and through the ravines by the Dead Sea. 'The reader senses the changing political atmosphere as well as the physical transformation of the landscape,' says the publisher's blurb. He's doing the politics through the geography, just as Eyal Weizman does it through the architecture, and he's engaging with it in the most committed way possible - on foot.
    Sunday, July 06, 2008
    Chinese Dub
    I'd never heard such quiet ambience on any stage at the Academy as the almost imperceptible drone, punctuated by long silences, which greeted us at the beginning of a remarkable evening yesterday. It struck me that it would have been more appropriate for the audience to have been seated in Lotus positions to embrace such precious sounds. But the Academy is a rock and roll venue and even at 7.30 in the evening the floor would probably be sticky, and you can't stop the extroverts in an audience like that chattering away into the ears of their companions and others standing nearby.

    Anyway it turned out that what we'd walked into was a temporary lull in the set presented by Liverpool's Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra, and that it wasn't ambient music we were hearing, they were just tuning up. Now this, dear reader, was the support act at the world premiere of Jah Wobble's astonishing new project for Capital of Culture year, Chinese Dub, and as Wobble said later in the night, 'some of these instruments are a thousand years old, you know, so they take a while getting into tune.'

    I said astonishing - it was actually spellbinding. Jah Wobble has proved time and again to be a master of cross-cultural fusion, and so it is in this current show. A collaboration with his wife Zi Lan Liao, international guzheng player and teacher of music and choreography at the Pagoda Chinese Youth Orchestra and Dance Group, Wobble's show also featured players of bass, drums, bamboo flute, and the gourd pipe of Yunnan province.

    The singers pictured with him here, Wang Jingqi, a singer from the Mao ethnic minority of China (part of Yunnan province) and Gu YingJi, a Tibetan singer, contributed colour and grace and wondrous vocal styles to the mix, and each piece of music also showcased some other Chinese art form, including some entrancing dances and the stand-out piece of the whole event - the awesome 'Mask Change' dance of the Sichuan Opera. In this, the performers change their brightly-painted face masks so rapidly that it's impossible to see how, while making all sorts of other complex operatic movements. It is breathtaking theatre.

    Perfect to premiere in Liverpool, which hosts one of the oldest established Chinese communities in Europe, Wobble's Chinese Dub is now touring. I'm amazed that in this Olympic year it hasn't had a higher profile. Yet, that is. Once the reviews start coming in it may be destined for larger stages. It really is wonderful - don't miss it

    Pic: Mark McNulty Photography, Jah Wobble Chinese Dub
    Saturday, July 05, 2008
    Many more border line questions now

    Who's keeping the welcome in the hillsides now? One among many memorable discoveries on a good day's walk yesterday with Linda and Michael, who are doing the whole of St Cuthbert's Way and had me along for the heights between Kirk Yetholm and Wooler.

    [Home today by way of the wonderful upland trinity of roads, A697, B6342 and A6079 - laying hands on Hadrian's Wall at Brunton Turret ... all firsts for me.]
    Wednesday, July 02, 2008
    Questions on the border line

    But, just here... standing between the two ... where am I, particularly, and am I welcome? And if I am, who is welcoming me? Questions on the border line, which I will face when I (God willing) reach this point on Friday.

    Tuesday, July 01, 2008
    Are you a teacher... and yet you do not understand these things?
    Exhausted, having coordinated an ordination service in our own church tonight. So I'm brain dead now, but before total collapse I've managed to put online the talk I gave: Are you a teacher... and yet you do not understand these things?