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

    Sunday, November 30, 2008
    Midfield Trinity

    You're not so bad yourself, either, Steven Pienaar
    Obsolete and unsuitable for modern living
    Obsolete and unsuitable for modern living. What: the room behind the inn? No. Terraced housing, according to researchers into 'housing market change' in the M62 corridor. Chris Allen, whose Housing Market Renewal and Social Class is among the most impressive I read in 2008 - or for a long time - says that
    The authors of this report argued that terrace housing had become 'obsolete' and 'unsuitable for modern living', especially for 'contemporary flexible service sector households' (I think that means the middle class). They also seemed to think that the neighbourhoods in which many of these dwellings are located are 'dysfunctional' becuse they have too many working class people and not enough middle class people - that sort of thing. Mr Nevin and his colleagues concluded from their research that these terrace houses - that are so 'obsolete', 'outdated', 'unwanted' and 'unsuitable for modern living' - need to be demolished and replaced with 'high value' products that 'contemporary' households wanted.
    Allen's work demonstrates the hollowness of such rhetoric. Hollow - but highly manipulative. I've blogged about his book before. Now, on Advent Sunday, news that he's decided to make a new start: no, not repent of his unacceptable behaviour in the liberal academy, rather he's decided to move to a terraced house in Liverpool and to start a blog describing life there. It's called myobsoleteterracehouse.blogspot.com. So in a while we'll find out whether he has to admit that terraces are after all 'obsolete and unsuitable for modern living'. Or whether, as is the case for most of us who are happy to trade off listening to next door's occasional rows for the security of being physically attached to attentive neighbours, terraces are quite ok, thanks.
    Friday, November 28, 2008
    Advent Joy
    As is my wont I completed all my Christmas shopping in one go today. This releases me to experience Advent as intended: which means weeks of having to attend endless 'socials' which I am obliged to pretend to enjoy (me, the introvert who'd rather be at home with a Saxondale dvd or walking the edge of a post-industrial site anticipating ghosts), painful hours making small talk over unfilling pastries with people I barely know and upon whose nearest and dearest (who I've never met) I must then bestow my sincerest good wishes for the holiday season, days worrying that what I've bought my folks is not enough, whilst watching the bank balance dip dangerously as the long winter month moves on and the statement shames me for the excesses of payday. I completed my Christmas letter today too. That was fun.

    Ah, Lights Out for the Territory. Great - if unnecessary - to have a reason to re-read it. 'For my studies!' This is the book which launched me and many people onto the streets with reopened eyes, notebooks and pens and a reason to be unapologetically poetic in the write-ups we made of the places we walked which (we had previously allowed others to persuade us) seemed so unpromising. It's over a decade old now and if anything it makes even more invigorating reading today.

    Wednesday, November 26, 2008
    Racing Demon
    LIONEL: Do you know this area?
    FRANCES: Yes.
    LIONEL: It can be pretty punishing. I don't think anyone from the outside quite understands what the job is. Mostly it's just listening to the anger. One reason or another. Lately it's the change in the DSS rules. If you're young, setting up home, you can no longer get a loan for a stove, unless you can prove you'll be able to pay the money back. I've had three couples in the last week. They need somewhere to go to express their frustration. They're drawn to a priest. They're furious. At their lives. At the system. At where they find themselves. (Smiles.) And they come to the vicar because he's the one man who can never hit back.
    (Frances is restless, not understanding.)
    FRANCES: Yes, I'm sure but I mean ... you can fight in
    this case?
    (He looks at her a moment, as if in a dream.)
    LIONEL: I'm sorry?
    FRANCES: You do still have the will? Don't you?
    I somehow missed David Hare's Racing Demon when the play opened in 1990, maybe because back then I wasn't in any way engaged with its subject matter - the struggles of four inner-city clergymen to make sense of their mission. Yesterday I read it in one sitting: rapt, on a cold Sheffield station bench. Powerful, powerful stuff.
    Tuesday, November 25, 2008
    We walk among giants
    A few words of wisdom from old George Herbert
    By no means runne in debt: take thine own measure.
    Who cannot live on twentie pound a yeare,
    Cannot on fourtie: he's a man of pleasure,
    A kinde of thing that's for it self too deere.
       The curious unthrift makes his clothes too wide,
       And spares himself, but would his taylor chide.
    Well, I'm afraid I can't run on twenty pound a year. In fact I spent precisely that amount on Saxondale series 2 in HMV Sheffield today as a little gift to myself after two intensive days at UTU, of supervision and discussion of the first three months of MPhil work. I'm honoured to be in the company of great minds. The Herbert quote comes from the new website of St. Andrews, Bemerton, where my friend Simon now sits in the rector's chair once occupied by the celebrated priest-poet. Privilege, that. Must seem pretty awesome too. We walk among giants. Including those with tight waistbands.
    Sunday, November 23, 2008
    From a member of the Puffin Club
    After a week's break enjoying much laughter and entertainment with various adorable children of family and friends, I come home to the unlikely gift of a letter I once wrote, recovered by my auntie Dot from somewhere. It evidently has no more sentimental value to her and so I am left with it: PONDERING what benefits I may have gained from being a member of The Puffin Club (besides the evident free stationery, a nice touch); AWED at the quality of my handwriting. I doubt it's ever been that good, anytime since; AMUSED by the formality (all that stuff about the weather); DISAPPOINTED by the pedantry (that guff about the boundary changes dates this at 1974, the year that the metropolitan boroughs were created to much reactionary whining which evidently got into my eleven-year-old head); TOUCHED by all those kisses (noting that Sam, their dribbly pug, was excluded from them); and finally, DEVASTATED by that P.P.S. All I can think is that it was a show of generosity to that couple of LFC fanatics given that we'd capitulated to West Brom in a 4th Round replay in February, and they were about to appear at Wembley to give Newcastle the expected tonking. I'm sure no one reading this will use it against me...
    Friday, November 21, 2008
    Naked no longer
    The Naked City, a map by Debord, illustrates the Situationists' concern with the construction and perception of urban space. The map consists of 19 cut-out sections of a map of Paris, printed in black ink, which are connected with red arrows. With its invention of quarters, its shifting about of spatial relations, and its large white blanks of non-actualized space, The Naked City visualizes a fragmented city that is both the result of multiple restructuring of a capitalist society, and the very form of a radical critique of this society. [Tom McDonough]

    The Naked City was by far the most famous image to come out of situationism, and perhaps deservedly so. Its arresting, matter-of-fact design simultaneously mourned the loss of old Paris, prepared for the city of the future, explored the city’s structures and uses, criticized traditional mapping, and investigated the relationship between language, narrative, and cognition. [
    Simon Sadler]
    I've been living with Guy Debord and his chopped-up maps all this week, and so you might understand why, when I stopped my studying this afternoon and turned my mind towards how to illustrate this year's home-made Christmas card, I came up with the idea of revising The Naked City for the end of European Capital of Culture year. So I've cleared out Debord's little bits of Paris, altered the title, apologised to the late revolutionary in the bottom right-hand corner for what I'm about to do to his work, and am chopping up tiny pictures to stick in the appropriate places. Question for me is: Debord's map came without any explanation. Dare I - who enjoys writing so much - stay true to the situationist spirit and produce a Christmas letter without words? Somehow I doubt it.
    Wednesday, November 19, 2008
    Face to face with a living sculpture
    On a tour of the independent bookshops of East London yesterday, an unexpected encounter with a living work of art. After a fruitful half-hour in the Freedom Press bookshop, out of Angel Alley and heading up Brick Lane for lunch and a browse at Rough Trade East, I turned my head at the junction of Fournier Street (for a back view of the awesome Christ Church Spitalfields) and there, approaching me in tweed, was George. George, that is, of the noted art collaborators Gilbert and George. Not the short one, no - George, the one with the specs.

    Now, I'm no great fan of Gilbert and George's work. The garish photomontages don't do much for me. That the duo themselves are at the centre of most of their artworks bugs me a little, and as for their other imagery, if I want to look at poo and wee and graffiti then I can visit the gents in the Ten Bells, Commercial Street, anytime. I guess I just don't get it, in the same way as Billy Bragg doesn't get it when he sings, "Gilbert and George are taking the piss aren’t they?" So I was surprised at my reaction when all of a sudden there was the unmistakable George, feet away. I felt a warmness in my recognition of him. And so, involuntarily, gave a friendly nod and 'hello' as we passed.

    Why the warmness for a man who in his pictures has revealed to me way more of himself than I care to see (Bragg's line refers to G&G's recurrent use of bodily fluids in their scatalogical self-portraits)? Maybe I was pleased it was George and not Gilbert, as I can't help seeing George as the jovial Eric to Gilbert's sterner Ernie. Perhaps I intuited that I was in the presence of a National Treasure, affirmed as such by The Art World and Those In The Know, and regardless of my former reservations about the man and his work I couldn't help acknowledging the contribution he's made to my life, in a small but poignant way, like the equally trivial-but-meaningful contributions made by the likes of Madonna, Alan Shearer and The Queen.

    But I think what warmed me to George yesterday was that when I saw him there I wasn't surprised to see him there. It's well known (I've soaked it in) that Gilbert and George are two of Brick Lane's most contented residents, of thirty years and more. They're always walking these streets, to and from the shops. No big deal. It's also well known that their art and their everyday lives go together. On the one hand they draw a lot of their inspiration from their environment (realistically, let's face it, turds and all) and on the other hand they insist that everything they do is art. They talk of themselves as "living sculptures". So the walk to the shops is an art statement. It's conscious. It could be anywhere but it's in E1. It couldn't be anywhere because it's in E1. I like that too.

    So yesterday I encountered an international presence but I greeted a very rooted man. Good to see you there, George.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008
    All alone and so lonely
    A three-month-old boy and a boy aged three have been found dead at a property in Greater Manchester. Officers discovered the bodies at an address in Kilmington Drive, Cheetham Hill, on Wednesday night. A Greater Manchester Police spokesman said that officers were alerted after reports of "concern for welfare" were made to them. A 21-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of murder and is in custody awaiting questioning. The police spokesman was unable to confirm or deny reports that the children had been stabbed to death. A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said the residents were in shock at the news of the deaths. "It's heart-breaking, just tragic - hard to believe," she said. [Source: BBC]

    she leaned herself against a wall
    all alone and so lonely
    and there she had two pretty babes born
    all down by the green wood sidey

    and she took off her ribbon belt
    all alone and so lonely
    and then she bound them hand and leg
    down by the green wood sidey

    smile not so sweet my bonny babes
    all alone and so lonely
    if you smile so sweet you'll smile me dead
    all down by the green wood sidey

    she a penknife long and sharp
    all alone and so lonely
    and she pressed it through their tender heart
    all down by the green wood sidey

    she digged a grave beyond the sun
    all alone and so lonely
    and here she buried those sweet babes in
    all down by the green wood sidey

    she stuck her penknife on the green
    all alone and so lonely
    and the more she rubbed the more blood was seen
    all down by the green wood sidey

    she threw the penknife far away
    all alone and so lonely
    and the further she threw the nearer it came
    all down by the green wood sidey

    as she was going by the church
    all alone and so lonely
    she saw two pretty babes in the porch
    all down by the green wood sidey

    o babes o babes what have I to do
    all alone and so lonely
    for the cruel thing I did to you
    all down by the green wood sidey

    seven long years a bird in the wood
    all alone and so lonely
    seven long years a fish in the flood
    all down by the green wood sidey

    seven long years a warning bell
    all alone and so lonely
    and seven long years in the deeps of hell
    all down by the green wood sidey

    Spent twenty-three minutes this morning once replaying Martyn Bates and Mick Harris's spare, terrifying version of The Cruel Mother, as a way of soaking in this sobering news from Cheetham Hill. Sometimes only being enfolded in some raw honest traditional English song will do as a way of ruptured praying.

    [Hear / buy Bates and Harris's The Cruel Mother: mp3]

    [I'm having a brief blog break for a few days... back next week]
    Wednesday, November 12, 2008
    Two separate conversations overheard while passing through the University precincts this evening:

    "It's fantastic doing teaching practice - realising how you're helping them to make new discoveries, to learn...."

    "Just got out of that seminar ... great discussion ... really intense..."

    This feels like the unintended follow-up to Monday's blog. Next time I'm exposed to some stuffed old media cynic denouncing the vacuousness of our youth, help me remember the verve of these students today.
    Tuesday, November 11, 2008
    Not dreaming about elsewhere
    Oh beautiful. Antony has a new EP out. He tells Alan Licht about "Another World" in this month's WIRE:
    Antony categorically rejects [the notion that we are only visiting this planet]. "I think we get born out of the earth, this album is like, I was born out of this place, I'm made out of this place. If there is any possibility for paradise, this is it. I'm not dreaming about elsewhere. I'm made of this place."
    I need another place, will there be peace?
    I need another world, this one is nearly gone.
    Still have too many dreams, never seen the light.
    I need another world, a place where I can go.

    I’m gonna miss the sea, I’m gonna miss the snow.
    I’m gonna miss the beach, miss the things that grow.
    I’m gonna miss the trees, I’m gonna miss the sun.
    I’ll miss the animals, I’m gonna miss you all.

    I need another place, will there be peace?
    I need another world, this one is nearly gone.
    Still have too many dreams, never seen the light.
    I need another world, a place where I can go.

    I’m gonna miss the birds singing all their songs
    I’m gonna miss the wind, been kissing me so long.

    Another world
    Another world
    Another world...
    The cover features a portrait of Japanese dance pioneer Kazuo Ohno,
    taken by Pierre-Olivier Deschamps in 1984.
    Monday, November 10, 2008
    I met me, thirty years ago
    Young bloke sat in my car early this morning as the rain lashed down outside and we waited for his boss to arrive with the key to the Garage. Later in the day I had to hand over £210 in shoddy notes to the man - MOT/service, the price of keeping the car on the road another year. But I didn't begrudge it, because these are hard times and these are honest working men. And because as we'd talked in the car I realised that my young companion was actually me, thirty years ago.

    Me, thirty years ago, grateful for a job offered me by the father of a mate at school. Which I'd never have got if my exam results had had to be taken into account. Him, travelling halfway across Liverpool to serve a similar apprenticeship now with his uncle.

    Me, thirty years ago, riding a coughing moped fifteen miles from one edge of the city to another, ten times a week, to spend my days learning a trade from older men skilled in hand and eye and able to handle oily pieces of paper containing invoices and instructions. My young companion spoke of that same experience - the dead knuckles at the end of a journey in the freezing cold, the knees which won't bend after forty-five minutes exposure to icy winds on the road. And shared what esoteric knowledge he'd already gleaned about the cylinder heads and carburettors with which he spends his days.

    Me, thirty years ago, happy to have a wage while many of my ex-schoolfriends were still reliant on parental hand-outs and some already were dependent on the state (that came just a little later for me after Thatcher killed our industry). He too, delighted at the status and relative freedom of even a modest (and equally precarious) income.

    Me, thirty years ago, willing to fetch and carry, do the chores, get the milk and put on the lunchtime bets. It was all new. It was all experience. It was cold and damp in the workshop and hard graft much of the time but I wouldn't have swopped it then and I'm glad I didn't now. This young man - the same.

    I just can't believe it's thirty years....
    Sunday, November 09, 2008
    Tough minds and tender hearts in the Obama years
    Tough minds and tender hearts in the Obama years: my offering for Remembrance Day.
    Saturday, November 08, 2008
    Youth Against Fascism

    Not sure why, but of all the American music I have, it was to Thurston that I turned to celebrate the new era. Probably because with exquisite timing (and a fantastic discount) Boomkat delivered the excellent Trees Outside the Academy to me by post on election day. This excitement led me to revisit Thurston's Protest Records site which is rammed with free anti-war mp3s and commands you to use 'em for yrself - give 'em to friends - just don't sell 'em. And in a great collection there's Thurston's other band loud and angry with Youth Against Fascism [lyrics right; sing along with the mp3]. All of which contributed to an American-themed Remembrance sermon... more on that tomorrow.
    Thursday, November 06, 2008
    A toast: to trust of the people tempered by prudence
    We were served a glass of champagne with our meal at St Deiniol's yesterday evening, in celebration of the American people's joyous decision to embrace hopeful change on the election of Barak Obama. A fine place to be, to welcome this bold shift in global politics: the library which William Gladstone gifted to the nation, (as the history tells) transporting most of the 32,000 books himself by wheelbarrow from his house a quarter of a mile away.

    Jonathan Freedland in today's Guardian reports on one aspect of Barak Obama's admirable approach to the serious business of governing.
    He would ask his policy advisers to convene the top experts in a given field for a dinner. Obama would make introductory remarks, then sit back and listen - hard. Similarly, when convening his own staff for a key decision, he might stretch out on a couch on his office, his eyes closed, listening. According to one account, "he asked everybody in the room to take turns sharing their advice, insisting on the participation of even his most quiet, junior staffers". He particularly encouraged internal argument among his advisers, thrashing out both sides of an argument.
    After eight years of a president who ostracised those advisers who dared tell him what he did not want to hear, the Obama style will mark quite a change.
    Gladstone famously described Liberalism as 'trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.' So, on the day that the good people of America consigned Bush's deadly conservatism to its pitiless end, we raised our glasses to one we hope will become the best of liberals.
    Wednesday, November 05, 2008
    The right to the city and an untidy melange
    I'm at St Deiniol's just tidying up my first 5,000 words of MPhil work, a history and critique of situationism and psychogeography, and I just had to include this excellent quote from Will Self's Psychogeography:
    Nick Papadimitriou points out that most of the psychogeographic fraternity (and, dispiritingly, we are a fraternity: middle-aged men in Gore-Tex, armed with notebooks and cameras, stamping our boots on suburban station platforms, politely requesting the operators of tea kiosks in mossy parks to fill our thermoses, querying the destinations of rural buses. Our prostates swell as we crunch over broken glass, behind the defunct brewery on the outskirts of town) are really only local historians with an attitude problem. Indeed, real, professional local historians view us as insufferably bogus and travelling - if anywhere at all - right up ourselves.
    I hope my conclusion doesn't support this criticism... it's prompted by an excellent article in New Left Review 53 by the radical geographer David Harvey...
    The social theorist David Harvey recently proposed that in this ‘era when ideals of human rights have moved centre stage both politically and ethically’ we each have a right to the city: 'The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city.' Harvey is writing of the need to democratise the means by which our global cities are shaped. I suggest that whilst psychogeography is an imperfect political project, a maverick art form and an untidy melange of practices, nevertheless it has a valid and potentially influential contribution to make to the processes through which cities may be positively changed.
    Well, I would say that, wouldn't I?
    Monday, November 03, 2008
    One last cuppa
    News just in that there's only two months left of Tea Blog...
    Since 1 January 2006, British artist Ellie Harrison has been maintaining the web-based project Tea Blog. Every time she drinks a cup of tea or another hot drink she notes down a snippet of what she is thinking about and uploads it to the blog. There are now well over 1,500 thoughts archived online, which chronicle the last three years of the artist's life via her tea-drinking habits. Tea Blog is now entering its final two months and is due to end at midnight on 31 December 2008.

    Ellie Harrison is known for her large-scale durational projects for which she has collected data about different aspects of her everyday routine. For Eat 22 she photographed everything she ate for a year and for Gold Card Adventures she calculated the total distance she travelled on London Transport in a year (9,210km). In August 2006, however, she officially 'quit data collecting' - vowing never to start another project focused so intensely on her own life again. When Tea Blog finally concludes later this year, it will mark the end of this aspect of her practice forever.
    Sunday, November 02, 2008
    The Saints as signs of contradiction
    The Saints as signs of contradiction. My offering for All Saint's Day.