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

    Friday, October 31, 2008
    Following the Luftwaffe

    Took a while to work this out, looking at it all angles, before I realised that to form this outstanding image of Liverpool Terence Davies has superimposed a present-day city centre skyline onto Bernard Fallon's 1969 photograph The long walk. What then struck me was how it hadn't seemed unlikely to see such a picture of dereliction foregrounded before the gleaming spectacle of the iconic buildings of Empire and the new city towers of last-gasp land-grab capitalism.

    Parts of Kirkdale, I thought, will still look like this, because as Fallon put it, 'The area was literally flattened as the city had demolished many homes and removed the residents miles away to new estates in Kirkby, Skelmersdale and Speke.' Quoting a well-used saying of the people of Scotland Road, 'What the Luftwaffe failed to do, the city corporation finished off'... well not quite finished off, the work continues today.

    I can't wait to see the film which has had so many great reviews (this, for example) and is now on general release. More on this, Sunday.
    Thursday, October 30, 2008
    Hallowing Halloween

    Ronald Hutton's magisterial Stations of the Sun is very rewarding reading anytime, but perhaps particularly at this most primal time of year. The trickery, the darkness, the setting-of-fires, the remembrance of the dead: it's deeply ancient in these Isles and it's all still here.

    The Protestant Reformation outlawed much of the above, of course. But thankfully that didn't stop it happening. In the new liturgy of 1559 All Saints was retained, 'but as a day on which to commemorate saints as outstandingly godly human beings, not as semi-divine intercessors; the prayers for the dead were, of course, abolished once more.' Opposition to this was strong. Especially (writes Hutton) in the particularly-Catholic north of Lancashire. There, bonfires blazed on the hills along the Ribble Valley; in Whalley families would gather on the hills at midnight on the eve of All Saints', one holding a large bunch of burning straw at the end of a fork while the others, in a circle, prayed for their dead.

    How do we hallow halloween? Some people will protest anything that has a hint of darkness about it, in a fantasy that aspires to exist in a constant state of pure illumination. Seems to me healthier to affirm the lighting of fires as a protest against the inevitable onset of the dark, as a commemoration of the life our ancestors began for us and we continue.
    Tuesday, October 28, 2008
    Beyond the Bible Answer Man

    Never knew that liberal theology could be so entertaining. Yvette Flunder's moved way beyond getting her 'one answer' from The Bible Answer Man on gospel radio. But she's kept the brilliantly engaging preaching style of her 'pentecostal fundamentalist' roots. I was introduced to her today on a DVD chapter of Living the Questions, which is a sort-of Alpha for grown-ups.

    See this and 22 other videos on the YouTube Living the Questions Channel
    Monday, October 27, 2008
    Territorial stigmatisation
    English Housing Minister Caroline Flint's suggestion in February 2008 that unemployed council and housing association tenants (collectively termed 'social housing' tenants) must gain employment or lose their homes was widely criticised, or alternatively dismissed, as 'simply' an exercise in thinking 'outside the box', 'thinking the unthinkable' or 'blue skies thinking' – with reports also claiming that her Cabinet colleagues were keen to distance themselves from her. Flint's ideas were, nonetheless, only too indicative of a deep-seated way of thinking about poor and impoverished people that has an enduring legacy in the UK – and across much of the Western world. Her proposal to have council tenants sign 'commitment contracts' requiring them to seek work for the privilege of living in a council house smacks of successive generations of social welfare policy which, over the period of the past four hundred years or so – and certainly going back to the Elizabethan poor relief reforms – have sought to focus attention on those deemed to be 'deserving'.

    Flint is but one in a long and growing line of politicians, policy-makers, journalists and commentators who indulge in the popular pastime of territorial stigmatisation:

    "Over the last two decades the gap between these worst estates and the rest of the country has grown... It shames us as a nation, it wastes lives and we all have to pay the costs of dependency and social division." Tony Blair, 1998
    "The truth is that council housing is a living tomb. You dare not give up the house because you might never get another, but staying is to be trapped in a ghetto of both place and mind." Will Hutton, 2007
    "...there are thousands of people across Britain eking out lives...marked by violence, educational underachievement, unemployment, sickness and disease.... At the heart of almost every thriving city in Britain lies a second city, hidden from visitors' eyes." Amelia Hill, 2003
    "Ghettos of the workless and the hopeless." Polly Toynbee, 1998

    In these brief extracts there is a shared view across the mainstream political spectrum of the council estate as a place of 'worklessness', 'benefit dependency', 'anti-social behaviour' and 'moral decline' – of hopelessness and despair. These are the kinds of locales increasingly identified by politicians and policy advisors as places where moral breakdown is translated into social breakdown.

    This is nothing less than an antipathy to working class cultures and to working class life, an antipathy which is in many respects not that dissimilar from the anti-working class hatred that is central to 'underclass' ideologies. Such ideologies construct the impoverished poor as a group cut-off from 'normality', as the authors of their own misfortune, evidenced by claims about the disorganised, deviant and depraved lifestyles of those deemed to be part of such an underclass. Dress it up any way you wish, by all means use the term 'socially excluded' and there's no need to make reference to an 'underclass'. But there's no escaping that what we have in these brief comments is the continuing prevalence for a people and place stigmatisation that is shaped and influenced by decades of conservative thinking around poverty and disadvantage. In this approach structural factors such as class, racism and state oppression are completely neglected in favour of an attack and demonisation of public welfare as a major factor that underpins the reproduction of poverty, family dysfunctionality and which contributes to wider issues of law and order, community fragmentation and breakdown. We find ourselves in a position now, once again, of having to rebut such ideas and discourses, to reject victim blaming and individualist understandings wherever they emerge.
    from Gerry Mooney, Urban Nightmares and Dystopias, in Variant issue 33. A pretty good lens through which to view the current John Prescott documentary on class.
    Saturday, October 25, 2008
    Oppression free design

    I like to listen to a little hippie wisdom now and again. Because it's wisdom. This quote comes from Naybob Shineywater's interview in the current Arthur Magazine and I respect him and his partner-in-life-and-music Rachael Hughes because they don't just talk the progressive society, they're trying to live it out in the New Mexico desert, and that is where, as the group Brightblack Morning Light, they have recorded their latest album Motion To Rejoin - using four solar panels.

    This is self-sustainable recording. The Arthur article says, 'Motion to Rejoin was recorded using solar power, which involved installing a sign-wave inverter to their panel system to cut the humming associated with electronics rigged to solar.' Naybob says that 'Motion To Rejoin is anti nuclear and coal, but also aligned with the phases of the sun. With only 4 solar panels you are entirley dependent upon how much the sun is shining.' It fits the rest of their lifestyle which is suitably gentle on the earth too.

    But the best thing is the music - which is thoroughly gentle on the ears. Listening to Brightblack Morning Light you can turn on, tune in, and quite comfortably drop off. While they sing against oppression their Southern Blues couldn't be more laid-back. These aren't protest songs - they are politicised incantations with vibraphones and electric Rhodes. Out in the desert Brightblack Morning Light seem to have hit on a unique formula: resistance as relaxation, disavowal as letting go. Such lightness and brightness, and commitment to the good life - just the thing as the winter darkness falls.
    Friday, October 24, 2008
    The bird of peace has a bite
    Looking for images for this year's Christmas cards, I've been struck by the power of Fritz Eichenberg's woodcuts. The Quaker artist and illustrator of The Catholic Worker newspaper, his radical vision shows in these two images, The Long Loneliness (left) and Pax Vobiscum. Bit strong for Christmas, yes, no, what do you think? [More Fritz Eichenberg images here]

    Images found via Google Image Search
    Thursday, October 23, 2008
    Watching the free birds fly
    Why would a website devoted to the culture and landscape of an upland area of the west of Ireland be interested in hosting a text of a talk about a walk along the M62 motorway?

    Maybe because those involved have a keenly developed sense of place which embraces the proposition promoted so convincingly by Doreen Massey that while places are important and unique they are not static, they are unbounded, and have complex 'identities' which are global in reach. So Tom, of aughty.org writes to me saying, 'While we are based in a rural area we see the city at night. We see the planes in the sky. We like what you are doing.'

    Doreen Massey writes about planes in her seminal essay A Global Sense of Place which is made available on aughty.org [as a pdf] alongside news about County Clare Heritage Council Grants Programme and Heritage Education Strategy, farming notices about the spreading of slurry, papers on the geography and ecology of the Sliabh Aughty uplands and items about various regional arts events.

    Massey notices how the planes that make global movement so easy for business travellers fly over - but never stop at - the Pitcairn Islands, and the islanders are isolated as air flights increase and shipping concurrently diminishes. She takes a walk down Kilburn High Road, noting that 'overhead there is always at least one aeroplane', and this adds to her impression of an area of London which is connected on many levels to the rest of the world. She unblinkingly observes Kilburn High Road as a place where Irish Republicanism meets Hinduism and 'a Muslim [newsagent] ... chafes at having to sell The Sun', it is 'a chaotic mix' which she embraces as her home.

    You find this sort of progressive engagement with ideas about people and place on aughty.org. Not your regular tourist area guide or local information site, instead 'aughty.org aims to provide a focus for information and discussion about the Sliabh Aughty uplands in Counties Clare and Galway in the west of Ireland.' [my italics]. Since 2006 gatherings have been held in which 'people from around the region and further afield explored ways in which the heritage of the Aughties could be recorded, protected and enhanced by considering the region as a whole.' The website brims with the consequences of these discussions: pages of research, notices and observation on flora and fauna, biodiversity, history and heritage, archaeology, settlement and land use, culture and tradition, and families. Pulling in contributions from people way outside Clare and Galway where they might inform the conversations within.

    People like Doreen Massey, whose enrichment of such dialogues is esteemed. But also odd motorway walkers from Merseyside, it seems. Me, I'm immediately struck by one cultural connection: the area encompasses the fields of Athenry, which gave their name to that famous ballad of the Great Famine, about a Galway man banished to Botany Bay for stealing food for his starving family. For reasons sometimes sectarian, sometimes sentimental, deeply historical, always profound, 'The Fields of Athenry' is sung often here in Liverpool.

    'We hope to stimulate more debate and research, connect groups and individuals and generally raise awareness about this unique place,' say the people behind aughty.org. They're doing it well.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008
    Species Corridor

    I'm not well-travelled in mainland Europe, so it was pleasing to instantly recognise the site of the cover photograph of Parking Non-Stop's album Species Corridor. It's a station on the Prague Metro, one place I have been, whose deep chambers are all lined with these distinctive sci-fi metallic mouldings, which makes waiting for a tube train in the Czech capital feel like standing inside a giant Dalek.

    The Czech Metro designers have created a different colour code for each of its retro-futuristic stations, and my suspicion that these cover shots were taken at Jiřího z Poděbrad was confirmed by pictures on a Prague Metro website.

    I suspected Jiřího z Poděbrad because that's the title of one of the album tracks. It starts with a station announcement in a collage of sound sourced from that Prague subway as well as others at La Defense, Paris, and Potzdamer Platz U-bahn, Berlin, plus bells recorded in Cathedral Square, Haarlem, a street cleaner in Amsterdam, further ambience from Berlin's Kollwitzplatz and Brussels' Jaques Brel museum and wooden percussion recorded at the Ghost Garden & Dog's Graveyard, Portmeirion, Gwynedd.

    In keeping with the other tracks on Species Corridor Jiřího z Poděbrad is a melding of field and studio recordings, an experimental soundscape part europop and part industrial minimalism, belonging to 'a body of work that explores the sonic geography of a wider Europe within the context of north Wales, where [Parking Non-Stop, ie Zoë Skoulding, Alan Holmes and Dewi Evans] live'.

    The band website states that 'Parking Non-Stop is a psychogeographical experiment in combining soundscape and field recordings with spoken word and music,' and this would affirm David Stubbs' note in The Wire, that 'it's one of those cases where it helps to know the origins of the sound.'

    What does the listener do with the knowledge that Jiřího z Poděbrad station runs beneath a large square which is named after a fifteenth century Bohemian king Jiří z Poděbrad, or George of Podebrady, leader of the Hussites, enemy of Rome, whose conquest of Prague in 1448 sparked a civil war? The music caused this listener to recall the feeling of standing on a futuristic-looking platform with a keenly heightened sense of possibility of time travel, inter-spatial journeying, and as the sound track builds into a series of sharp eerie rail track squeals and the rumbles and blasts of warm violent air preceding the arrival of an oncoming train I take this as the sound of King George's 9000-strong army, marching from Kutná Hora in the east to take possession of Prague with little opposition.

    I am thrilled by the words which Parking Non-Stop lyricist Zoë Skoulding writes (in The New Bridge from Remains of a Future City),
    the lines of the landscape
    run through me to somewhere else
    But I also then recall the arrival of the Metro train on the platform that day, a piece of the antique Russian rolling stock which until quite recently shuddered around the bowels of the city, quite out of place beside the space-age platform, its banality shattering the illusion of space-time trickery, and helping me recall part of the Parking Non-Stop mission statement:
    They aim to achieve a distinctive north Wales sound that is based in discovering new spatial and temporal resonances: this is not a musical identity built from a mythical past, but an engagement with the sonic possibilities of the mines, quarries and rusting machinery in the landscape as it is today - a decaying rural-industrial environment rich with unexpected noise.
    "Ukončete prosím výstup a nástup, dveře se zavírají" (Please finish exiting and boarding the train, the doors are closing.) Is that exiting, or exciting?
    Monday, October 20, 2008
    Dear Gordon...
    Sunday, October 19, 2008
    Hope I survive the audition
    Not often I preach about The X Factor but I did today.
    Friday, October 17, 2008
    Instruments of joy
    'These are instruments of joy that we play for you,' sing The Owl Service at the opening of A Garland of Song. They truly make a joyful noise unto whatever Creator we might agree together in. Says Steven Collins of this, his latest labour of loving attentiveness:

    "I set out to make the most exciting English folk album since Liege And Lief - I'll leave it up to you to decide whether I actually achieved that: it's certainly a celebration of the tradition, the beginning of a joyous re-telling of our song tapestry and ultimately something I'm incredibly proud of. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.”

    I think you will.
    Thursday, October 16, 2008
    The angels were with us
    There always have to be 'others' for us to punish. The beneficent owners of the Vulcan Works foundry created a tidy village for their workers as they set about building locomotives for the world's earliest steam railways during the 1830's-1870's. This notice on a gable end on Derby Row makes it clear that there would be no benevolence for people seeking their employment any other ways in Vulcan Village. Stopping off there on our way to Manchester today we made sure we laid off ballad singing.

    Vulcan is the god of fire. Represented here on another gable end wearing an outfit which would not impress Health and Safety officers in any contemporary foundry, his presence alerted us to the complex forces at work even in the most idyllic settings. Benevolence, brutality and brimstone.

    We were headed towards more 'others', and more complexities, on a trail between two north Manchester cemeteries which bear witness to the deaths and remembrance of three men who Irish Republicans call The Manchester Martyrs (previously blogged about here).

    Others have other names for them, of course. Or would rather they had no names. Hence the tension even in the clear autumn air as we stood in Blackley Cemetery adjusting our shadows so as to keep the sun shining on the tiny stone marked only with its plot number, 'C.2711', the current resting place of William Allen, Michael Larkin, and William O'Brien, Irish nationalists who were hanged on November 23, 1867 for killing a policeman during a prison escape, and whose bodies were until recently buried in quicklime in Strangeways Prison.

    In the intervening years Republicans built a memorial to these men, in St Joseph's Cemetery a couple of miles away in Moston, and that was our final destination today. In a vast expanse of elaborate stones laid by generations of Irish and Italian Mancunian Catholics since 1875, and in the generous autumn sun, the 20 ft high Celtic cross stood proud today. But on closer inspection it is a wrecked work. The monument's portraits of Allen, Larkin and O'Brien are still there, the Irish tower, the Irish harp and the figure of Erin, armed with sword and shield. But they are weathered. Symbols of Unity, Justice, Literature, and Art and figures of the Irish wolfhound - they have gone. And the whole piece bears the scars and cracks of hammerings by those who would prosecute the Memorial's presence in the city with the utmost rigour of a natural law which must ensure that 'others' are punished.

    Despite these sober thoughts we felt that the angels were with us on our journey today. Guiding us: so that in the massive Blackley Cemetery we found C.2711 with ease; so that Dave's chance conversation with a passer-by outside the Charlestown Hotel (great ale but foodless) led us to the Thatched House, where the staff served us food with a smile and which turned out to be just across the road from St Joseph's Cemetery. And on the way we passed through a park which is becoming a little iconic for me: Boggart Hole Clough. Those mischievous sprites generously left us to enjoy the rare and precious Manchester autumn sun as we trailed through the Clough's deep golden hollows following a path named Angel Hill.

    Pics from my Flickr photoset, Blackley/Moston Irish cemeteries walk
    Wednesday, October 15, 2008
    Pie chart

    This Simon Evans cartoon in the latest Arthur magazine pretty much captures the zeitgeist (of any era...?)
    Tuesday, October 14, 2008
    A Modern Tale For Our Times (Lest We Forget)

    Many years ago a man came to Liverpool searching for his direction and role in this universe. He came from a distant land known to the people of that place as Prezton.

    This man went a mong the people of Liverpool. He went to their homes and citadels in strange sounding places like Kir-bee, Tox-tef, Boote ell, Ken-sing-tone, Gar-stane, Ding-ell and Hi-ton. He visited their inns and hostelries and discovered great humour and mirth.

    He went among them in their market places to break bread and eat fruit and wondered at the particular colour of their robes and garments. He saw in their faces great love and devotion and a faith he had never experienced. He touched the hands of many men, women and children and sensed a strength and a power surge through him. (He saw no need to visit the ferry terminais, train stations, motorways or airportsl)

    And when he had finished his journey he knew that his search was over. This man was so overcome with a sense of belonging
    that he stayed In this wondrous city and spoke of what he had seen.

    And this is what he said.

    "Everton are the Peoples Club in Liverpool, The people on the streets support Everton."

    And the people of the city rose up in their multitudes and hailed this man, saying,

    "Yea, verily, we will follow you to the ends of the Earth, for you truly are, the Chosen One"

    Ged Finnegan, in When Skies are Grey #142. Thanks for your loyalty, David Moyes
    Monday, October 13, 2008
    The Guitar That Love Built
    "People are giving. When they aren’t being taken advantage of, they know it. They deserve respect and when they get it, they share: ideas, jokes, opinions, money, food, stories, music and beer."
    As I mentioned yesterday, recently some of us helped Kristin get a new guitar. She's written about it today: The Guitar That Love Built.

    Pic by greenbelly, from Wild Vanilla
    Sunday, October 12, 2008
    Keep it under your floorboards
    With wisdom formed through lifetimes spent very close to economic necessity, people around here have never trusted the banks or insurers, preferring to keep their cash reserves in notes stuffed into mattresses or in plastic bags under floorboards. I was reminded of this today in conversations where (a) with characteristic frankness, people told me where they hid their money, and (b) it became clear that no-one knew anyone directly affected by the plunging financial markets (though some were worried about the charities).

    So with that wisdom formed through lifetimes spent very close to economic necessity our conversation in the 'sermon slot' this morning got onto the practical issue of what food you cook when there's little money around (answer: Scouse, or - for the uninitiated - a stew, because you can keep adding to it and importantly you can easily share it around). And I was particularly struck by the insight that an essential ingredient of cooking is that you do it with other people in mind - eating is best when it's eating together, and that is the purpose of cooking. Whatever hard times are ahead, these folks will get through ok.

    Meanwhile in other significant financial transactions today I:

    - pledged a small amount to help a valued musician replace a broken guitar;

    - pledged a slightly larger amount to try to help a community to which I belong to sustain its generous, but financially eccentric activities on two Hebridean islands and in one Scottish city;

    - ordered another batch of my book as demand (the lady who runs the toddler group and an ex-Boys Brigade veteran) is currently far exceeding supply (stock sold out at Greenbelt).

    I'm not sure how much these activities will stimulate the paretic money markets, but you can't say I'm not doing my bit to help.
    Saturday, October 11, 2008
    Or just being pretentious about it
    Being interviewed in the current Big Issue in the North, psychogeographer Will Self takes kindly to Jamie Kenny's suggestion that his approach to walking 'is [close] to the original ramblers, to the men and women who stormed Kinderscout in the 1930’s.'
    “I think that is apposite. It is important to walk: otherwise you’re just beamed up at your starting point and beamed down at your destination. Conventional travel is a means of removing people from their environment, and I think that the human environment should be reclaimed.

    "But I don’t go to look at beauty spots. They’re just visual bonbons: walking in that sense is just consumerism for pedestrians. If I was walking into Manchester I’d take the train to Runcorn and walk into the city along the ship canal. These sorts of places are human creations and have been let slip into neglect for no other reason than that they are on the way to somewhere. Remember the feminists marching to reclaim the night in the seventies? It’s the same thing.”

    This sounds like a manifesto. But what would actually improve if everyone were to reclaim the airport slip road and the turnoff to the business park?

    A deep breath: “Localism, in a word. More conversations between strangers. Less aggression. More knowledge of who your neighbours are. The development of genuine communities…of course, my wife says I just want to go out for a walk and I’m being pretentious about it.”
    I like that. If I were married I'm sure I'd get that too.
    Friday, October 10, 2008
    Temples for a civilization yet to come
    Before today I guess that my view of Le Corbusier was the received one: that of the architectural pioneer of the twentieth century whose genius lay in his ideals and whose unfortunate legacy was the brutal post-war housing projects whose shadows continue to blight most Western cities.

    Fifty years ago this month Liverpool's Walker art gallery hosted Britain's first major Le Corbusier exhibition and in the years that followed, in the area just behind the Walker, the city's historic Scotland Road was razed to make way for a six-lane roadway which converged beneath a mass of concrete flyovers and walkways. Corbusian town planning - or a cheap imitation?

    Today I experienced Le Corbusier, The Art of Architecture in the Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral Crypt, and so now I am convinced that Corbusier's genius lay in his designs too. 'Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep', he once said. His remarkable houses - La Tourette, Villa Savoye - with their promenades and generous views - fulfil this marvellously. 'I still find the space in the flat beautiful,' says Gisele Moreau, 55 years a resident in Le Corbusier's Marseilles Unité housing project. A large scale model of the Philips Pavilion at the World's Fair, Brussels, 1958, is astonishing, and the film taken inside that venue - of vast layered projections filling the angular spaces above the silhouetted heads of an awed audience - looks like Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable or a Pink Floyd underground light show. But Corbusier created it a decade earlier.

    And that points to what I'll most take from this exhibition. I'd arrived expecting to see an interesting retrospective of twentieth century architecture. Two hours of Corbusier's work up close and I felt like I'd entered a portal to a surprising future. Some critics see Corbusier's work this way too:
    'Le Corbusier achieved an awe-inspiring monumentality which leaves a disquieting impression of a kind of inverse ruin; that the civilization for which these magnificent temples have been fashioned is yet to come.' (Sunand Prasad in the Sept 2008 Riba Journal)
    None more so, for me, than the Church of Saint-Pierre, Firminy, which took my breath away today. Mine and the bloke stood next to me as we found ourselves abandoning gallery decorum and declaring to each other our astonishment and admiration for the plans, photographs, film and scale model before us. Matilda Burn (also in the Riba Journal), says of the Church of Saint-Pierre, that
    The conical roof has square and circular openings that, painted in primary colours, let coloured sunlight pour into the sanctuary, illuminating the altar. The lower levels are only indirectly lit by slit-like gaps in the facade. The easterly wall of the church is perforated with fist-sized openings that correspond to the constellation Orion.
    At the heart of Orion are a trinity of stars known as the three kings, and though the church was only completed last year - over forty years after Corbusier's death and after much politicking - the architect got his wish that they should cast their natural light on the sanctuary.

    Matilda Burn reports that the Church of Saint-Pierre has been 'disowned by the church', that 'the building remains unconsecrated and is used mainly as an art gallery to display works by Le Corbusier and his contemporaries.' Does a place need to be officially sanctioned to feel sacred? Of course not, and especially when there's the touch of genius in it as there so clearly is there.

    TOP: Philips Pavilion 1958, from www.medienkunstnetz.de
    BOTTOM: Church of Saint-Pierre, Choir, from www.sitelecorbusier.com
    Wednesday, October 08, 2008
    On targeting the affluent whilst leaving the underclass to their fate

    Plenty to chew over in Tim Gorringe's Theology of the Built Environment; Justice, Empowerment, Redemption, and I'm having to chew over it at the moment because in a few day's time I'm leading a conversation on his chapter on Community. Plenty in the above to raise some questions about current vogue assumptions in churchy circles about the nature of community. Some unfortunately influential publications seem to typify the sort of thinking and planning which David Harvey observes: a 'concern for community [which targets] the affluent whilst leaving the underclass to their fate'. Too much detail to go into here, but thankfully Tim's nuanced analysis is a very helpful counterpoise to all that stuff, realistic, challenging and hopeful, eg:

    Cuttings from Tim Gorringe, Theology of the Built Environment
    p.170-1 (top), p.188 (bottom)
    Monday, October 06, 2008
    The School of Life on the M1
    Fascinated to discover an organisation called The School of Life, devoted to the study of how to live. As director Sophie Howarth writes in the current TateEtc,
    The philosopher [Plato] believed the meaning of life could and should be studied. Yet if you went to any university, museum or other cultural institution in the UK today and said you’d come to study “how to live”, you’d be politely shown the door. Why should this be considered so ludicrous? Surely the question of how to live is still the most important one we can ask. Last year Anthony Kronman, professor of law at Yale, published a passionate polemic, Education’s End: Why our colleges and universities have given up on the meaning of life. “Why did the question of what living is for disappear?” he asks. “Our lives are the most precious resources we possess and the question of how to spend them is the most important question we face.”
    Even more fascinated to discover that alongside a programme of courses, life coaching sessions and lectures (interestingly called 'sermons' and held on Sundays at The Horse Hospital) The School of Life also offers holidays - with a difference. David Lawrence is hosting one later this month. It's A Tour of the M1. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with excuses to undertake such activities, but this is how Lawrence justifies his two-day trip:
    Motorways are strangely alluring; we spend so long on them, but don't know much about them. This holiday reveals why the M1 is such an extraordinary work of architecture, design, sociology and peculiar gastronomy. We explore the length of this great tarmac institution, meeting architects and historians, artists and truckers. We unearth the story of the motorway’s construction, reveal the poetry of its monumental architecture, dine in its historic service stations and recover the utopian thrill of its early days. We also, of course, meet those who are campaigning against the expansion of the M1, and hear their stories.
    Makes perfect sense to me though work commitments mean that I shan't be able to join Lawrence and various others including Ed Platt, author of the brilliant A40 Western Avenue story Leadville, and School of Life co-conspirator Alain de Botton who locates the M1 Tour travel itinerary in these terms:
    Rather than always being a chance to escape reality, perhaps holidays should offer us a chance to make ourselves more at home in the world we actually live in, even down to its half-terrifying, half-sublime motorway systems.
    Quite right! More please, but preferably not at weekends...
    Saturday, October 04, 2008
    Consolers of the Lonely

    Their music is good, The Raconteurs, as you'd expect from a Jack White outing. Consolers of the Lonely is at the slightly smoother end of garage but still quite thrilling. I love the cover art just as much. Here they are, thoroughly believable as a mid-American travelling freak circus, on a low-loader truck stage towed by lions and accompanied by a procession of solemn men and a massive wide-toothed mannequin. Beneath an array of stars and flags there's a beautiful woman blindfolded and doves caressing a plain sad-looking girl. The Raconteurs may be self-mythologising using deep American symbols which I don't understand. Or they may just be having fun. Either way it all goes well with the sound they make: a bricolage which might appear thrown-together but which is in fact thoroughly deliberate in every detail, the sort of infinitely-crafted fabrication you expect from everything Jack White does.
    Friday, October 03, 2008
    A Shaggy Ink Cap on Branthwaite Crescent, and other astonishing discoveries

    A good day's walking in Croxteth, West Derby and Norris Green with Bob Gilbert, who knows about things like Shaggy Ink Caps and enjoyed our meander through brownfield sites and country park fringes where what he found illuminated my view of the place too. See my Croxteth Five Churches walk photostream for more.
    Wednesday, October 01, 2008
    Rumour has it that Everton are in line to be bought out by a consortium of Indians. That's my club, always different from the others - who as we know, have all been purchased by cowboys. Money: it's already been enough to force my decision to spurn a season ticket this year. If the Indians get their club then I'll likely go further and follow Attila the Stockbroker* in purchasing one of these protest t-shirts from Philosophy Football.

    * He wore one on stage last week