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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Wednesday, December 31, 2008How I have failed this year
Blessings, reader. Here's to a relatively satisfying 2009
Tuesday, December 30, 2008Celebrating the undignified spectacle
"This is moon musickIt seemed so right, in this chilling drift between years, to spend a day with Coil's Musick to Play in the Dark in my ears and my mind's eye delighting in Iain Sinclair's fourth M25 excursion (south-easterly counter-clockwise out of Staines) in which he and his co-walkers trace the pattern in the landscape of The Kingston Zodiac (a terrestrial coordinate system revealed by a Mary Caine: they walk a configuration which she names The Dog, whose head aligns with the Holloway Asylum, Egham).
When, in a Staines breakfast cafe, three local loafers overhear Sinclair and his companions discussing Caine's constellations and their significance for their journey, the walkers are judged to be 'tramps', 'drug addicts'. Sinclair welcomes these judgements - and the subsequent conversation - as 'nitty-gritty', a complement to Caine's 'spirit', and all of this sets them up well for a day which will embrace, among other places, St George's Hill, site of the revolutionary experiments of Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers in 1649, and now home to Cliff Richard.
It was also a joy to read a parallel account of this journey by one of Sinclair's companions that day, Kevin Jackson, a freelance writer who came ill-equipped for the journey and whose blisters had developed blisters five hours into the walk, when he bailed out and took a train home in full knowledge of the consequences.
I am painfully aware of the risk that Sinclair may well end up incorporating this undignified spectacle in some book or exhibition, alongside selections of my more ill-considered utterances, but console myself with the thought that there are worse fates than a walk-on, or hobble-on, part in the continuing Sinclair oeuvre. 'You'll have learnt to do this sort of thing by telephone next time,' Sinclair says, as we head down into Chertsey...Jackson, though, emerged with other ideas. Though he was right about the treatment he'd get - in London Orbital Sinclair describes Jackson's feet as looking like 'deformities of war', his socks (cut away from the flesh in a Chertsey pub garden), 'a pulp of sweat and blood, would fit over a baby's head' - Jackson's Independent article concludes, 'give me a good pair of socks and boots and I'm up for it again. I've no objection at all to re-branding myself as a pedestrian writer.'
That's the psychogeographic spirit. It's what following the A-Z zodiac, engaging in all-day-breakfast banter, listening for the moon musick, does for you.
Lyrics from Coil, Are You Shivering.
Monday, December 29, 2008Prayer for Liverpool / Gerrard own goal
Gun and knife crime, yes, Steven. Refraining from drunken assault and affray, would also be helpful. The integrity of the Prayer for Liverpool project tested by this contributor's own goal.
Sunday, December 28, 2008The elusive force for good is with us The elusive force for good is with us, here.
Thursday, December 25, 2008With a strange child that is her own
It is a human child she loves
They're from a poem about The Annunciation but Elizabeth Jennings' words work well today too
Christmas greetings to you, valued reader
Image: Fritz Eichenberg
Wednesday, December 24, 2008Rumours of ANGELS and psychotic optimism Robert's Christmas letter (his annual communiqués being paragons of the form, an inspiration to me). He quoted my BBC R4 Sunday - Bill Drummond section, besides descriptions of other defenders of culture such as Candy Smith, 'the only one left in her Victorian Terrace, [who] rounded on the Leader of Council doing fire-duty on the vacated properties, and rounded on Prince Charles in Toxteth Town Hall', and Ken Drysdale, whose Granby Street Barber Shop is 'a force for good – I have my hair cut there regularly, and no where else, and pick up my ‘sermons’,' writes Robert. 'Through no fault of his own, and no lack of integrity on his part, but through the deceit or the ignorance of the owners of the building, Ken finds himself and his Capital Investment, caught between the Banks the Law and ‘the Recession’.'
In trying to tease out the significance and worth of the Capital of Culture in all its complexity Robert quotes at length a rare truthful and sympathetic view from the south: Christopher Hart's Sunday Times piece on June 8 What does Liverpool 2008 mean for the city? This is Robert's edit:
Rumours of ANGELS and capitals of culture..
Tuesday, December 23, 2008Return of the 50-foot spider
The people in the end house here are getting cable installed for Christmas. I might have to get round there on Christmas night because that's when Sky Arts are broadcasting the documentary Spider in the City: La Machine in Liverpool. It should be good because it's produced by Illuminations who do lots of good art films (I've got DVDs of their showcases of Tracey Emin, Hamish Fulton, and of course Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit's London Orbital). On their blog John Wyver says that Spider in the City turned out to be 'as much a performance film of the event as a documentary about its creation'.
The film opens with some two minutes of Liverpool waking up to the spider on the side of the building; there's no narration, just the unfolding of the event on screen. Which is an aspiration that we've kept for other major sequences -- you simply watch the spider, and wonder.Simply watching and wondering: that's what half a million of us did during the spider's journey through our streets in September. If the film captures just a small flavour of the awe-inspiring nature of the Capital of Culture year's most popular event then it'll be well worth watching. Lobby them (as I and others have) to bring it out on DVD.
Pic by Ian Serfontein from Illuminations website
Monday, December 22, 2008My Naked Year
Based on The Naked City, Guy Debord's seminal 1957 psychogeographical remapping of Paris, here's a list of the visual references on my 2009 Christmas Card. As you'd probably expect, they're all off the website. [Click image or here to enlarge]
Superlambanana shape traced onto a city centre map, August
Bill Drummond's 17
Philosophy Football's AGAINST MOD£RN FOOTBALL tshirt as modelled by Atilla the Stockbroker, October
La Princesse, the spider, thrilling tens of thousands on its journey along Canning Place, September
Still from Denis Mitchell's 1959 film Morning in the Streets, as used in Terence Davies's Of Time and the City, October
On the Scotland-England border, St Cuthbert's Way, July
Phil Smith's map of his Charles Hurst journey which became a play, In Search of Pontiflunk, seen in Duffield, March
Jess on Deerlamboltnana, East Village, August
Croxteth dandelions, May
Sydney Carter's Green Print for Song
Larry Norman's Guardian obituary, February
Le Corbusier headshot, October
Many are Called, Few are Chosen: keeper of the faith outside Goodison Park
Wooden Shjips Vol.1
Chris Allen's Housing Market Renewal and Social Class
Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan in I'm Not There
Ringo? Fair question in Capital of Culture Year
My head modelled from lump of clay in a Manchester bar during TRIP conference, June
Jah Wobble's Chinese Dub, Carling Academy 2, July
Mr Tapscott, a poem in nine sections with in-serts & list of re-sources by Bill Griffiths
Pat A Dog salon sign, Carr Lane East, Croxteth, October
Pete Burns, A Little Bit of Erics, Carling Academy, September
Logo of Liverpool, Mexico's leading department store chain, as discovered by Gill, June
Sunday, December 21, 2008Christmas letter 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008No doors slammed on the seventh
Thirty years ago, Rowan Williams had a formative experience in Liverpool that would help define his approach as a churchman and an archbishop. "When I first went to train in a parish in the 1970s, I went to one of the worst council estates in Liverpool for a bit as part of my student experience, and the vicar said to me something I've never forgotten: 'The people here have doors slammed in their face every day of the week. I want to make sure they don't have another one slammed on the seventh.' That's a very central vision for me and that's what I try to work with."- Rowan Williams, in a fascinating interview in this week's New Statesman.
Thursday, December 18, 2008Ritual and Education Ritual and Education has arrived at just the right time, for me, to mark the passing of Oliver Postgate. The connection is in the sound. Because the artists on the Ghost Box roster (all featured on this low-cost sampler download collection) find their inspiration 'in library music, folklore, vintage electronics and haunted television soundtracks'. Check: Noggin the Nog, The Clangers. Stuff I was brought up with.
Those programmes embraced Ritual: the five-minute teatime TV slot, unmissable, especially when it was a Postgate production; and Education: Postgate's programmes offered children a joyously crafted, brilliantly scripted, deeply engaging work of art despite the makers' poverty. As he recalled in one of his valued polemics, 'Does children's television matter?':
In our time we had been able to found great kingdoms of mountains, ice and snow in our cowsheds. In Peter [Firmin]'s big barn we commanded infinities of Outer Space, starred it with heavenly bodies made from old Christmas decorations and made a moon for the Clangers.They don't make them like that any more, he wrote - because 'children are no longer children, they are a market. With so many millions at stake the entrepreneurs know that the bottom line must be 'to give the children of today only the sort of things that they already know they enjoy'.' Such programmes cost millions to make and market - but they can't match Postgate's shoestring creations for being 'original and mind-stretching'.
So when I hear Through the Green Lens by The Focus Group, with its electronic wobbles, warbles and whistles, I'm hearing The Clangers, I'm visualising the journeys of Noggin the Nog, I'm wondering whether the genesis of my interest in all things Welsh was a synthesis of the mountains I could see from my bedroom window and those five-minutes-per-day I spent with Ivor the Engine. And I'm grateful for artists skilled in piecing together wondrous worlds for people to enjoy, using found objects, found sounds; gifted artists generous enough to do all this for little, if any, financial gain.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008The Lost Art of Walking It's come to me from a couple of sources today: a review in The Economist of Geoff Nicholson's The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism. Which looks good. Nicholson talks up the word flâner which, he writes, is “a truly wonderful word…it can mean to stroll, but it can also mean the act of simply hanging around.” And he wittily pops a few bubbles around some of the more pretentious walking literature (Michel de Certeau, who writes that walking “is a process of appropriation of the topographical system…a special acting-out of the place…it implies relations among differentiated positions”, psychogeography which is like "modern literary criticism applied to the layout of car parks"). Walking is a bit of a lost art to me at the moment, wimpishly fleeced and puffa'd behind a steering wheel trying to keep contact with the damp, diseased atmosphere to a minimum till the flu effects subside. Probably do me more good to get out on foot again. Tomorrow maybe.
Saturday, December 13, 2008Coming alive to the splendour
One of the highlights of this morning's excellent session on the life of Merton was hearing David describe Merton's epiphany on the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Louisville. I've never quite 'got' Merton because of what comes across to me as his deep-seated dualism between the inner and outer life and especially an opposition between 'nature' and the city; but at times this seems to melt away into an inspirational whole. As on that road junction on March 18, 1958.
In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you.Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
Pic: Merton epiphany: 4th & Walnut in Louisville from Jim Forest's Flickr photostream
Friday, December 12, 2008The nightmare I'd missed for so long Nightmare, the first track on. So brilliant I cried.
"let the proud but dying nation kiss the last generation
it's the year of the pill, age of the gland
we have landed on the moon but we'll clutter that up soon
our sense of freedom's gotten out of hand
we kill our children swap our wives
we've learned to greet a man with knives
we swallow pills in fours and fives
our cities look like crumbling hives
man does not live he just survives
we sleep till he arrives
love is a corpse we sit and watch it harden
Thursday, December 11, 2008wish jar
from Keri Smith's wish jar. Excellent stuff. Thanks Katherine for the link.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008Seek out the overfamiliar Ode to a Postbox by Aidan Andrew Dun which shares some common ground with my Common Prayers, but goes much further, deeper. Excellent stuff.
It's a revolutionary act to remain in one place in the metropolis.The poem informs a Poetry Workshop in which Dun encourages participants to consider how 'the most trivial recollection will lead us straight to the sacred'.
The most common object in the modern world is potentially the most sacred because its restoration to sanctity is totally unexpected. The poet has traditionally helped to keep the sacred alive by associating the world's great symbols - a tree, the ocean, the sky - with simple feelings of compassion, humanity, love, non-violence, noble resonance. Big ideas have most often been expressed in straightforward language (naturally I mean the direct intensity of Shakespeare, not the gibberish of a lawyer or a government). But as oceans, trees and skies die in front of us, and the world and all its strange wonders are desanctified, our exercise is to seek out the overfamiliar and disregarded, the rejected, marginalized and faceless even, and to load these obscure players in life with larger significance. Here is a work of unification and of 'invisible legislation', to paraphrase Shelley.I don't know what responses he got, but if I'd known about this at the time then he'd have had a wheelie bin poem in his inbox...
Sunday, December 07, 2008Keep Crossing Fingers
The Biennial's over for another - how many years? - and I missed most of it. That is, I didn't go inside many galleries while it was on. I think by autumn I'd succumbed to Art Overload In Euro Year Eight. (It was the Spider that did for me: nothing on earth could remotely follow that, may as well pack up, go home, spend the winter glowing with remembered joy). But there was a lot of good Biennial stuff outdoors: those revolving trees (which ok, were static when Lucy and I visited them but magical nevertheless), that massive fluorescent-tubed rabbit on the tower of St James' Church. And, more subtle but my favourite, the signs furtively placed by Otto Karvonen on various sites around the city, designed in standard style and fonts so as to meld into the street scene, but each bearing a quietly subversive or surprising message. The emotional entering a realm where you normally find the functional. Ambiguity overwriting directness. Funny, eye-opening stuff.
Pics from Liverpool Biennial Flickr set
Saturday, December 06, 2008Low day
It's clear from my site stats that Saturday is low day for visitors here*. That surprises me a little as it must mean that those who make special visits here to steal my sermons actually do it with more than just a few hours to spare before delivery. As the squashed parabola pattern shows, Mondays are often the peak, which suggests what people get up to first day back at work. But I wonder what my missing weekday readers are doing on Saturdays instead? They're probably over at evertonfc.tv soaking in the wisdom of Moyes. Or maybe they're out in the cold world rattling trolleys loaded with half-price Lindemans across concrete car parks. Because the people I'm wondering about aren't actually reading this today, to respond to these speculations, then perhaps I'll never know.
* Isn't a blog entry preoccupied with the significance of its own traffic statistics one of the first signs that blogger's starting to spiral down the neck of a creative plughole? Possibly, but cut me some slack, I'm just coming out of a fever.
Friday, December 05, 2008De-creed Dot tagged me to write a creed in under 140 characters. I found this hard for full of flu my brain and body are not functioning well. I'm quite averse to these "oooh, aren't we all wonderful, connecting on the internet together" taggy-type adventures: probably how it feels all the time for those on Facebook, what a cringe. And I resisted it, for the whole idea of a creed is to exclude 'others' (and following the tag back to its origin I think that view is sadly confirmed). But Dot's a friend, wouldn't want to let her down, know I need to lighten up, and so I had a go.
God, perhaps, is: gentle, good and moderate, not zealous nor religious, joyously resistant to dogma; not where I am but where I hope to be.Well done for spotting the inspiration: the first bit is a reworking of Bede's depiction of Aidan, seer of Lindisfarne. Iain Sinclair quotes it in Lights Out for the Territory which I've been reading, inbetween sleep, all day. Now, I refuse to burden someone else with a tag now but if you want to add your words of credal wisdom in the comments here, it'd be interesting to read them.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008A different sort of fever Magical Mystery Tour buses through Allerton a few times daily.
Also tend to forget, or underappreciate, the brilliance of the music. Mostly through taking it for granted, not really listening to it much, making assumptions that I 'know' it.
In an refreshingly enthusiastic review in this week's New Statesman, one without a hint of metropolitan media snobbery, Antonia Quirke can't stop herself marvelling at the artistry of the late-Beatles, and the way that even in 1968 they were still evidently thrilling themselves with their inventiveness:
...the kick you get listening to "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" comes from actually being able to - can't you? - hear the band thinking: "Look! Aren't we brilliant, jamming away like this! We once did 'Yellow Submarine' in an evening, remember? Maybe this doesn't ever have to end after all!"They are brilliant. Back In The U.S.S.R. followed by Dear Prudence - and that's just the opening; the awesome While My Guitar Gently Weeps and the raw, proto-metal Helter Skelter... as a collection this can't be bettered, surely. And that can't just be my delirium. THEY SAY IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY... IT'S MY BIRTHDAY TOO YEAH...
No wonder we're European Capital of Culture, with this pedigree. Besides the typically Liverpudlian tall tales like those of Bungalow Bill, and the recalcitrant Piggies (kicking against the suits a decade before Pink Floyd's Animals), there's the jolly Scouse singalongs Glass Onion (with its Cast Iron Shore reference) and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. And near the end, seguing between Cry Baby Cry and the stoner classic Revolution 9, is McCartney singing "Can you take me back where I came from / Can you take me back?" Glad I took them back today. Left me in a different sort of fever.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008Hail Merrie England
According to the TUC's History Online, by 1849, 40% of Liverpool's population were estimated to be living 'below the poverty line', and 'This converted 'gypsy' caravan travelled around Liverpool in the winter selling bowls of soup for a farthing to the poor and unemployed.' Let's hope that our current crisis doesn't reach such depths, nor men ever again feel the need to wear those crazy Mark Lawrenson moustaches.
Besides R.T. Manson, organiser of the Liverpool Unemployed Association, another man behind this van was Robert Blatchford, editor of Clarion and author of Merrie England (1895), which reveals that there was far more than mere charity to their works. 110 years on, this vision still has legs:
So now let me tell you roughly what I suggest as an improvement on things as they now are.
Pic: Clarion Soup Van - dispensing soup and socialism from the 1890s.
Photo of 1906 reproduced in the Nerve Merseyside Resistance Calendar
'by kind permission of Merseyside Museums and Galleries'