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

    Saturday, January 31, 2009
    Be kind with Liverpool
    Near the end of twelve pages of quotes and anecdotes which he's collected in the man's memory, Robert writes that just days before he died at Christmasstide, John Fenton sat up in bed, and said to his wife, “Be kind with Liverpool”.

    Liverpool-born Fenton was Robert's principal at St Chad's College, Durham in the sixties and it's clear that his mischievous, surprising style, 'always with a desire to bring fresh perspectives to familiar texts, and always with a decided twinkle in his eye', massively influenced all those who studied under him. Being of a generation deprived of such singular leaders I'm grateful that I've at least felt Canon Fenton's disturbingly creative influence as filtered through some of his followers and friends; that's been enriching. From Robert's compilation, a sample of John Fenton's style from an address to ordinands:
    What the Church will need as its priests is men and women who know that the important and obvious thing about God is that he is silent. He does not speak. He does not grunt, or shuffle his feet, or cough, or do anything to assure us he is there. He meets us in his silence.
    The last words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel are: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He has been given nothing to say. It has all been given to Pilate, the soldiers, the chief priests, the scribes, the passers-by and the centurion; they said who he was, mocking him in unbelief. He was silent, and Pilate was amazed. God was silent, and Jesus was desolate. This is the way.
    What the Church needs is people who believe in shutting up; that God is not a talking God; that we do not have the word of God, we have the silence of God. That’s all there is, and that’s what makes us tick; that’s what we want to bring others into.
    The purpose of Christian talk is to get us to stop talking.
    Great stuff. And “Be kind with Liverpool”. What did he mean? Contemplating that will keep me quiet for quite a bit.
    Friday, January 30, 2009
    Tolerating ambivalence on Queen's Drive
    How can you hold together in your psyche two apparently conflicting perspectives, at the same time? I'm not sure, except I know that I can, and this week I've enjoyed exploring, with others, the work of psychologists who say that such a thing is not only possible, but it is a sign of a healthy psychology (and correspondingly, according to Susannah Izzard, a healthy spirituality). Tolerating ambivalence. "I'm glad to see you and I wish you hadn't come", "I wish you would recover and I wish you would die".

    Tolerating ambivalence. I found myself doing this today on my second successive evening shunt along nasty, smoking, three-lane Queen's Drive. On the one hand, my eyes surveying the mass of seething rush-hour commuters around me in standstill at a crammed junction, our fingers drumming steering wheels with impatience, our feet tensed over accelerator pedals, our eyes reflecting the red from tail lights and traffic lights, the words of Eliot (almost inevitably) came to me,
    We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men
    Leaning together
    Headpiece filled with straw.
    In my head I'm reciting this in the style of Coil: I'm creating doom-music, a soundtrack to suburban ring-road apocalyptic. But on the other hand, and at exactly the same time, I'm also in a quiet reverie, thinking 'I'm at home here, I belong, in this crowd of people all pulling together to ease our journeys home. Flowing together, holding the line for each other. We're at one. After you, my friend.'

    Tolerating ambivalence. Or maybe I'm just cracking up. It has been a long week.

    Wednesday, January 28, 2009
    What's the frequency, Tommy? Reprise
    Thomas Gravesen quits football. He was a true one-off. Time to reprise my blog of four years ago when the man was in a rich vein of form at Goodison, and inspired by the observation that 'the phenomenal Thomas Gravesen looks - and plays - like Michael Stipe on steroids...'

    "What's the frequency, Tommy?" you're this season's dream, uh-huh
    You were brain-dead, worn out, numb, like Gary Speed
    I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream
    Bog-eyed vision on the Sky TV screen
    I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
    You blew our expectations out of the air, uh-huh

    I'd studied your free-kicks, fouls and stares in footy magazines
    Moyesey said, "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy"
    You smile while giving rivals tooth for a tooth
    You're 28 but moving with the freedom of youth
    You wear a shirt of royal blue, uh-huh
    I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

    "What's the frequency, Tommy?" you're this season's dream, uh-huh
    Butterfly stitches, midfield general, hogging the scene
    You smile while giving rivals tooth for a tooth
    You're suddenly moving with the freedom of youth
    You wear a shirt of royal blue, uh-huh
    I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
    You blew our expectations out of the air, uh-huh

    I couldn't understand
    You're suddenly moving with the freedom of youth, uh-huh
    I couldn't understand
    You wear a shirt of royal blue, uh-huh
    I couldn't understand
    I never understood you're fine with me, uh-huh
    Singalong with Stipe (sort of) here
    Tuesday, January 27, 2009
    Interruption at the Opera House
    At the very beginning of an important symphony,
    while the rich and famous were settling into their quietly expensive boxes,
    a man came crashing through the crowds,
    carrying in his hand a cage in which
    the rightful owner of the music sat,
    yellow and tiny and very poor;
    and taking onto the rostrum this rather timid bird
    he turned up the microphones, and it sang.

    'A very original beginning to the evening,' said the crowds,
    quietly glancing at their programmes to find
    the significance of the intrusion.

    Meanwhile at the box office the organisers of the evening
    were arranging for small and uniformed attendants
    to evict, even forcefully, the intruders.
    But as the attendants, poor and gathered from the nearby slums at little expense,
    went rushing down the aisles to do their job
    they heard, above the coughing and irritable rattle of jewels,
    a sound that filled their heads with light,
    and from somewhere inside them there bubbled up a stream,
    and there came a breeze on which their youth was carried.
    How sweetly the bird sang!

    And though soon the fur-wrapped crowds
    were leaving their boxes and in confusion were winding their way home
    still the attendants sat in the aisles,
    and some, so delighted at what they heard, rushed out to call
    their families and friends.
    And their children came,
    sleepy for it was late in the evening,
    very late in the evening,
    and they hardly knew if they had done with dreaming
    or had begun again.
    In all the tenement blocks
    the lights were clicking on,
    and the rightful owner of the music,
    tiny but no longer timid sang
    for the rightful owners of the song.

    Brian Patten's poem Interruption at the Opera House, which gave Jonathan Raisin the title for The Rightful Owners of the Song. Thanks for passing that on, Jonathan.
    Monday, January 26, 2009
    The best things are the most frequent
    So the other day it was James Hervey throwing light on the glory of the mundane; today I discover that on the latest leg of Mister Roy's tremendous odyssey Roy (long-distance walker, online chronicler and devoted photographer of motorway hard shoulders, gateposts, road signs and pints of beer) found in his copy of Thomas Traherne's Selected Writings, 'an exhilarating manifesto':
    ‘…God being, as we generally believe, infinite in goodness, it is most consonant and agreeable with His nature, that the best things should be most common. For nothing is more natural to infinite goodness, than to make the best things most frequent; and only things worthless scarce. Then I began to enquire what things were most common: Air, Light, Heaven and Earth, Water, the Sun, Trees, Men and Women, Cities, Temples, &c. These I found common and obvious to all: Rubies, Pearls, Diamonds, Gold and Silver, these I found scarce, and to the most denied. Then began I to consider and compare the value of them which I measured by their serviceableness, and by the excellencies which would be found in them, should they be taken away. And in conclusion, I saw clearly, that there was a real valuableness in all the common things; in the scarce, a feigned.’
    A beautiful perversion of conventional assumptions, as enlightening now as when he wrote this, 350 years ago. This synchronicity encourages me to try my very best to get to Rod Garner's session on Traherne’s poetry on 17 March at Edge Hill Uni [details in this pdf booklet].
    Sunday, January 25, 2009
    The most incredible intensity

    The highlight of the excellent BBC Culture Show: Liverpool Capital of Culture retrospective was their eight minute feature on yet another show I wish I hadn't missed: The Rightful Owners of the Song, in which composer and show director Jonathan Raisin brought together the cream of Liverpool's pub singers with the Philharmonic Orchestra to perform together at the Phil, with style and integrity. A celebration of the city's grassroots musical culture featuring L8's Willie Wenton and the woman Raisin calls 'the Ella Fitzgerald or the Billie Holiday of the north of Liverpool' Margaret Doyle, it brought tears to my eyes.

    And then, in a programme full of great (and curiously forward-looking, unsentimental) pieces about our year of cultural adventures, there's a great section in which Mark Kermode and Terence Davies stand alongside a used car showroom on Kensington Street L6, creating together a rich psychogeographical moment:

    Mark Kermode: At the very beginning of 'Of Time And The City' there's that quote, 'The happy highways where I walked and cannot come again', and there is that sense that that's exactly what's happened here: the place, the streets that you walked, literally don't exist any more.

    Terence Davies: No they don't, um, but they live inside me, I mean, with the most incredible intensity.

    Still of Margaret Doyle from The Culture Show: Liverpool Capital of Culture, A Year in the Life [BBC iPlayer, 09.00 mins]
    Kermode / Davies shot from the Culture Show website
    Saturday, January 24, 2009
    The style of Christ
    Honoured, awed, to be able to stand before some of William Blake's great artworks at The Tate yesterday. And also delighted to get a little further behind one of them: the Epitome of James Hervey's `Meditations among the Tombs'. Tate's interpreters tell us that
    James Hervey (1714-58) was a writer of devotional texts. His popular Meditations Among the Tombs was published in 1746 and it was often reprinted. The subject of the book is death, and the author dwells particularly on the grief caused by early death, and on the eventual re-uniting of the parted in heaven.
    It was the following extract which caught my eye. Teaching his followers the sublimest truths by spiritualizing on the most common occurrences: that's how Hervey explained what he called 'the style of Christ', his version of Heaven in Ordinary, 270 years ago:

    Extract from The Whole Works of the Rev. James Hervey, here
    Friday, January 23, 2009
    A look around the corner

    "The exhibition is the story so far of a social documentary photograhic essay about the Everton area and the residents who live there and the challenges they face living in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Britain. My aim is to widen debate through the photographs. I don't see the photographs as art but rather as a way of providing alternative views of the city from a perspective that is all too often buried away. Photography gives the photographer (and then the viewer) a licence to slow down the eye and take a look 'around the corner' of the official version of the city, this way photographs can be used to begin to question all the versions of history, sociology and so on we are given."
    More from Christian's website here.
    Thursday, January 22, 2009
    England and nowhere
    Nottingham, Maid Marian Way: William Carey plaqueIn a room just east of the grand crescent of Lincoln Circus, I heard the President's inauguration speech on the site of another historic oration. The Nottingham Central Travelodge is set where Friar Lane Baptist Chapel once stood, where 200 years ago William Carey preached the 'deathless sermon' which launched innumerable acts of Christian mission and coined the expression which remains central to Baptist faith and social action, "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God!"

    Not sure how great my two days in Nottingham will be judged; they consisted of an enjoyable attempt to familiarise myself with the area of Basford where, hopefully, in May, I'll be leading a walking workshop on the theme of finding 'heaven in the ordinary'.

    Old Basford: St Leodegarius gardenBasford Willows are everywhere in the ground behind old St Leodegarius church, which is an oasis of unexpected calm beneath a ramp of the A6515 Nottingham Ring Road. The bridge keeps the sun off the River Leen passing beneath in parallel with the Nottingham Express Transit tramway and the Robin Hood (Worksop) railway line. Turn one way beside the church's iron railings and you survey a site little altered since Norman times, which feels like one of those special places where, always, 'prayer has been valid'. Turn the other way and you face a dark corridor of twenty-first century transportation, bounded in grubby concrete, low live cables and flexing steel, with vehicles endlessly throbbing above on the approach to the junction with the B682 Nottingham Road, trains and trams shrieking past at regular intervals. This place could seem hopelessly in tension with itself, but to me it feels more like an 'intersection of the timeless moment / .. England and nowhere. Never and always.'

    Nottingham, New Basford: Shipstones brewery, Radford RoadThe Leen hosts other such intersections: a traveller camp, winter home for those who (in time-honoured fashion) will hoist their fairground attractions out of storage and on the road out of Basford for the enjoyment of thousands this summer; the gigantic gasworks and the even more imposing red-brick elevation of Shipstone's Brewery - both remnants of a different industrial past, both very present to the people of Basford and Whitemoor and the thousands of commuters taking the Leen route home.

    New Basford: Mural, Fox & CrownThe river winds through this boggy corridor, previously base for countless mills, dye- and bleach-works and continuing to host a large area of attractively tatty allotments. Finding my riverside route blocked by the railway, I retrace my steps and head past the church into Old Basford, where the pubs carry the place's story. The Fox and Crown, once used as a debtor's gaol, has a mural depicting the hero of old Sherwood Forest Robin Hood, firing off an arrow into a falling crown, its trajectory watched by keen-eyed Marion and unseen by an inebriated Friar Tuck. It serves its own-brand beers and gorgeous Thai meals. The White Swan affirms Basford's waterside location. The Horse and Jockey makes the St Leodegarius - St Leger connection. And the Duke Of Newcastle recalls the area's landed gentry of old, a shut-down pub in a late stage of decay at the approach to the inter-war Whitemoor Estate.

    Whitemoor: Circular sign for Totland DriveI enjoy Whitemoor, with its circular cast-iron road signs and its primary school which used to be (and still looks like) a sanitorium. I enjoy the eccentricity of a walk along the uncut grass of the wide Ring Road central reservation, and I enjoy other people's eccentricities as displayed in the front gardens of Wilkinson Street: some beautifully but excessively overplanted, some determinedly neglected, and one completely flagged displaying sodden-looking plants in a strictly-aligned formation of chimney pots.

    Past the shining park and ride facility, detouring up the Leen for a conversation about access with an orange-bibbed railwayman, past gigantic Shipstones and many various work sheds and on, up, into New Basford, which doesn't seem that new with its terraced streets recalling the triumphs of Empire (Egypt, Suez, Cairo) and the North Gate referencing the political geography of an even more ancient Nottingham. Like most of the roads I've walked here Nottingham Road is a working road: abounding with garages and tyre franchises, small business centres, engineering sheds. The iconic buildings remain but their uses are reinvented: the Shipstones building is now home to John Pye & Sons, Auctioneers and Valuers, 'One of the UK's Largest Auction Houses'; a 1970s-looking light-industrial shed opposite The Willow Tree is now a snooker hall.

    Old Basford: St Leodegarius from Ring Road - Rawson Street junctionI end my walk at the junction where it began: but this time above the church, across the obscenely busy A6514/B682 road junction, and in McDonalds. My guide on the first part of this walk, St Leo's vicar Nigel Rooms, said that this drive-in was built to cater for passers-by. He's clearly right, but here I witness another intersection of the timeless moment, as business travellers ordering burgers for delivery to their numbered Car Bays enjoy the sight of another customer, a mother, passing over her young baby to her friend, an assistant behind the servery; together we all share her friend's delight as she plays with the child. A couple of carers sit in what may be their regular seats with a young woman in a wheelchair and alongside them come six visiting young men in clean, bright bibs bearing the logo Carillion Apprenticeships. All are held in conversation by another friendly member of staff. This is England and nowhere, I ponder as I tuck into my chicken and bacon salad and a sea of cars passes by; this is England and nowhere, and this is good.

    Parish map / walk route adapted from www.achurchnearyou.com
    Basford walk, January 2009 - Flickr photoset
    Monday, January 19, 2009
    That man Cahill

    I shan't be blogging for a couple of days so have left a visual, cultural and artistic treat for you to click and enjoy at leisure.
    Sunday, January 18, 2009
    Nathaniel and the new vision of God
    Well, I called for a ceasefire and we got one. I don't think it was just me though. Nathaniel and the new vision of God: this morning.
    Saturday, January 17, 2009
    Thoroughly desserted
    Our only mission today: to completely finish a giant pavlova.
    Good things, birthdays.
    Friday, January 16, 2009
    Holy arty facts

    A holy artefact. You see, this is just the sort of reason why I can't take Julian Cope too seriously when he rages against organised religion. His work is full of exactly the same sort of references and stances as that thing which he so strenuously disavows. It can't all be irony. Methinks he protests too much. So here in the article which inspired his (predictably absolutely thrilling) HARDROCKSAMPLER Cope invokes the Gods of Rock against dogma and tradition whilst being pretty unyielding about who and what defines Hard Rock.

    Herein we find him stating with the absolute conviction of the devotee, that "the genre is emotionally and physically fulfilling in so many ways that new waves and newer waves down the years have brought forth genuinely new musical revelations and genuinely new stars of each period". Revelations, and the enthusiastic assertion that "Sleep’s Jerusalem [raises] Hard Rock to the level of High Ritual": they're all in Julian's articles of faith.

    I'm not trying to pick an argument with the Archdrude because when it comes to music I'm of the same mind; that's why I'm always dipping into UNSUNG, "Head Heritage's repository for lost and unchampioned rock'n'roll". It's a feast, an anointing, a howl of exultant hagiography every time (ie, it gives me many good ideas about new stuff to listen to). For this reason it'd just be good, O Lord Yatesbury, if you'd admit the complicated truth that some of us involved in organised religion (admittedly probably quite a minority; nevertheless...) dig the same stuff you do. And thanks for HARDROCKSAMPLER. I'm loving it. So in conclusion:
    Luckily for all of us, [it] is such a poetically essential part of Western Culture that it’s just gonna keep going away and coming back, coming and going as part of culture’s ebb and flow.
    What is Julian writing about there? Well, Hard Rock, as it happens, but, um, what else could it be...?

    Pic from Head Heritage's HARDROCKSAMPLER page
    Thursday, January 15, 2009
    The inner child

    Dad's 70th birthday today. He got a train set. And a music centre to listen to while he's playing with his trains. I think that's all good.
    Cartoon: Jon Birch, The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus #513
    Wednesday, January 14, 2009
    Being tender with the victims of their own delusions
    Ariel Dorfman on Harold Pinter, this week:
    All power, all domination and liberation started there, he seemed to be saying, in those claustrophobic rooms where each word counts, each slight utterance needs to be accounted for, is paid for in some secret currency of hope or suffering. You want to free the world, free humanity, from oppression? Look inside, look sideways, look at the hidden violence of language. Never forget that language is where the other, parallel violence, the cruelty exercised on the body, originates.

    Two men waiting in a basement to kill somebody. An old tramp laying claim to a derelict room. A birthday celebration interrupted by intruders. A woman afraid of being evicted. A son who comes home to his dysfunctional family accompanied by an enigmatic wife. Primal scenes of betrayal that could be happening anywhere on our planet, embodiments of a vast and disquieting landscape of dread, the precarious condition inhabited by most of contemporary humanity, the neglected narrative of the 20th century.

    So it was natural that I projected on to those stories born in England the disturbing shadows of my own Latin America. How many men like Davies [from The Caretaker] crossed our Santiago streets? How many killers took their time in the Buenos Aires cellars of yesterday? How many would await us in the São Paulo cellars of tomorrow? And how to tell those stories, respecting the uncertainty of those existences on the rim of extinction, mercilessly stripping the masks forged out of the lives we made for ourselves, and yet also be gentle, oh so tender, with these victims of their own delusions?

    Pinter knew how.
    Pinter taught me, too 'how dramatic art can be poetic merely by delving into the buried rhythms of everyday speech'. And Dorfman also speaks for me in his observations that
    [Pinter] whispered to me that we often speak in order to hide, and perhaps avoid, what we are really feeling and thinking. He understood that if you push reality hard enough, it will end up exposing under its surface another dimension - fantastic, absurd, delirious. He suggested that the worst hallucinations of fear are not immune to the pendulum of humour.
    Much of this I noticed - or perhaps just intuited then - when studying his plays 25 years ago. A nascent influence, still to fully emerge for me. Today, acutely aware through various situations here, of the violence we wreak in our language, it's that call to find ways to 'respect the uncertainty of those existences on the rim of extinction' and to cultivate the gift of 'being tender with the victims of their own delusions' which move and challenge me the most.
    Tuesday, January 13, 2009
    A peculiar vacancy
    I retrieved a copy of the mammoth Shell and BP Guide to Britain (1964) from the bread crate in the corner of our community room where people deposit and pick up used books. It contains a very striking description of the raison d'etre of the country around Chat Moss. What better purpose could any piece of land have than 'to hold the earth together and grow celery'? And following the recent hilarity emanating from the Anfield press room, there's a potent reminder that how we are now with our neighbours is how we've always been.
    The late Haslam Mills, the author of the charge that Lancashire gave itself the airs of a continent, pointed out that disparity, contrast, variation, are the most striking characteristics of the county throughout town and countryside. The traveller from Liverpool to Manchester may have noted, as he did, what he called 'the peculiar vacancy of the view from the carriage window as the train travels across fields which seem to have no purpose except to hold the earth together and grow celery .... It is a frontier between the two cities of Manchester and Liverpool, two cities which are not and never really have been on speaking terms!' Despite the miracles of communication that have been achieved, from canals and railways to airways and the arterial East Lancashire Road, it remains a curious fact that the last tolerable train from Liverpool to Manchester was lately 9.10 p.m. and that the two cities are entirely different.
    Scan of book cover from Petrol Maps website
    Sunday, January 11, 2009
    Back to normal after 2008 - Paul McCartney Makes A Cup Of Tea
    So that's it then. Back to normal after all the excitement of 2008. Captured on YouTube (by the brilliant Stevie Riks) - Paul McCartney Makes A Cup Of Tea.

    "So it's two sugars, right, that's one for me,
    and one for me worms, right, ok... dooooooo!"

    Screenshot from YouTube: Paul McCartney Makes A Cup Of Tea!
    Friday, January 09, 2009
    We live the lie
    "When the truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie." The Soviet dissident Yevgeny Yevtushenko quoted by John Pilger at the opening of his article in today's NS...

    For whatever reason, Sabeel's website is currently unavailable. However, "The Narrow Gate of Justice", the Jerusalem-based Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center's reflection on Gaza, is still readable via Google's cache or by going here. They write, "We believe that the real message of the Palestinians to the world is a genuine cry for freedom and liberation... Israel has shut the door on justice. The only way that can guarantee a lasting resolution of the conflict is for the United States’ new administration to dare and open the door of justice."

    Join Christian Aid's ceasefire lobby campaign here.
    Thursday, January 08, 2009
    Used to be Heaven; now it's Cyberspace
    It took 45 minutes for me to join the Uni library today, so while waiting to collect my laminated ticket to endless joys and wonders ahead, I sought out and sat down with Stewart Home's eye-opening compilation Mind Invaders, A Reader in Psychic Warfare, Cultural Sabotage and Semiotic Terrorism. Inevitably, there's lots from the London Psychogeographical Association in there, and also Ludd's Measure by Nigel Ayers, a provocative thesis written maybe a decade before its time (which could be now).
    To understand and hopefully undermine the mythical processes of capitalism, it must be remembered that although capitalism is not a rational system there is a method to its madness. Capitalism is a system of ritual magick, where power lies in the manipulation of symbols. The magick tools its initiates use are: the map, the flag, the clock, the ruler, the calendar, the coin, the name. It is a system of equivalence...

    ... it can be said that the continuing story of advanced capitalism has been in drawing power away from a physical centre into an abstract or virtual one. A centre that is out of reach having been located in quasi-mystical realms its priesthood have dreamt up. This pure place of equivalence - of greater reward - used to be called
    Heaven, now they call it Cyberspace.
    Wednesday, January 07, 2009
    La Princesse comic book

    The Story of La Machine, a great comic book souvenir of a highlight of last year, from the Liverpool Daily Post
    Tuesday, January 06, 2009
    Ruminant rumbles Card of the Year
    It's not a competition, like, but taking my Christmas cards down today I felt like awarding one of them Card of the Year. Difficult choices. Might have been Jean and Peter's woodcut nativity which is not only very lovely but makes me feel guilty as I didn't send them one. Might have been Chris and Carolyn's well produced 'Pictures from our Holy Land Trip 2008', a nicely done collage which featured, among other things, a camel and a hole in the ground. Might have been the one I got off my cousin, unremarkable in design but which (poignantly, on this terrible, terrible day) was bought at Woolworths.

    Suzanna's excellent iconography always takes pride of place on my mantlepiece (and I never throw any of her cards away), so her Virgin and Child Enthroned came close to taking the honours. But for originality, wit and earthy connectedness I decided on Jen and Steve's photograph of one of their sheep, taken at home in Orkney. Others, perhaps, might forgive them the message they left inside: Christmas Bleatings.

    Pic from bunning.co.uk
    Monday, January 05, 2009
    Iain Sinclair on 'heaven in ordinary'
    An interesting extract from the The Literary London Journal's excellent Iain Sinclair Special Edition in which Iain Sinclair, in conversation with Colette Meacher, gets a bit heaven in ordinary....
    CM: There's a line in White Goods: 'They became what they beheld' -- which obviously comes from a Romantic source - Blake, perhaps? And it's an expressive possibility that re-emerges again throughout your work; in Landor's Tower, the poet Tunstall experiences a feeling of 'joyous recognition' as he propels himself beyond a sense of the purely physical city, and becomes aware of its intrinsic transformative potential -- as a poetic form awaiting creative transcription. In this moment of self-realisation, 'light that is heat [came] from within, fused with the light of the world; in movement, definition. A riot, a ravishment; a chaos out of which he ... would retrieve or recognise order. And form. A unitive commingling with the pollen of the cosmos'.

    IS: Yes, Blake. It's interesting you mention that, because I've just finished this book in which I follow John Clare's walk from Epping Forest to a village north of Peterborough, and there's a point in that where he and his wife Patty, when they're courting, both look at the same thing and become as one. By looking at a single, natural feature - a river, or whatever it is - in that gaze, you become one with each other, and one with the landscape. That too contains my sense of the sublime.

    CM: Do you also encounter this sense of the sublime in relation to works of art - to paintings, sculpture, etc.?

    IS: I don't know what you'd call it; it's a sort of Joycean epiphany (or prejudice). You see something -- a work of art, a film, a piece of junk on the street, any kind of experience that lifts you into another realm, a parallel existence -- and then, as you move about the streets, mired in the mundane, you can attempt to burn a hole in the membrane of the ordinary. Heavenly light can come glimmering through.
    Sunday, January 04, 2009
    (?R)evolution in Breckfield

    Interesting to read English Heritage's take on the regeneration game - quite an enlightened one at first glance, in a book which couldn't fail to capture my attention given that it's set in the district at the end of our road and carries the title Ordinary Landscapes, Special Places: Anfield/Breckfield and the growth of Liverpool's suburbs.
    In order to demonstrate the potential which may be locked up in ordinary-looking towns and suburbs English Heritage carried out its own survey of Anfield and Breckfield. Looking at every street in the area, and collating documentary evidence of various kinds, we assembled an overview of historical evolution, identifying the main trends and highlighting the most important developments and individual buildings.
    Their Anfield/Breckfield project produced the book and a policy guidance note 'Low Demand Housing and the Historic Environment' from which this cutting is taken [document available on pdf here]. Adam Menuge's text is disappointingly uncritical of certain particularly un-heritage plans - his virtual silence on the history of Stanley Park and the heritage impact of LFC's proposed takeover of that land is understandable given that that bloated US franchise is a sponsor of the book - but it's an interesting approach, expressing keenness to challenge some prevailing assumptions about such places.
    [Suburbs] change over time, but they also differ from place to place, conferring a badge of individuality or local character on an area. In fact careful scrutiny of any particular suburb will reveal that an environment which we have long felt to be familiar still has the capacity to surprise us and challenge our preconceptions.
    The book would have been strengthened if it had included some voices of people who live there now, and other occupants over the years, giving their expert grassroots opinions on the place. In common with virtually all regeneration literature its voice is too removed from the streets it references. But given these reservations it's nicely done, full of rich detail, and once again it's pleasing to see innovation (with a hint of social / environmental justice about it) being birthed in Liverpool.
    Friday, January 02, 2009
    Prog Is Not a Four Letter Word
    Reminder to self (and any other fan coming out after all these years in hiding): once you've cherished BBC Four's documentary Prog Rock Britannia - which helps you remember that before it got bloated and self-indulgent prog was quite a celebration of innovation and excellence - you can keep on rocking with Andy Votel's Vertigo Mixed

    This non-stop party album (which I previously blogged about three years ago), is 'the masterful DJ's assembly of prog-rock obscurities. 38 songs, many of which were probably at least ten minutes long in their original entirety, spliced seamlessly together into 70 minutes of pure enjoyment.' It's the companion compilation to Votel's Prog Is Not a Four Letter Word which I haven't got... yet. Must do, because as Votel says,
    This music comes from a time when technological advancement, cultural open-mindedness and abstract expression were all at their halcyon and musical boundaries became virtually non-existent leaving the gates wide open for exciting new forms of sonic experimentation and genre fusions. The discerning cosmic-music enthusiast of early 1970's would witness an unwaining influx of mind-bending sub-genres flood through the record racks on a daily basis as rock mutated beyond palletable recognition overnight, providing new challenges and breaking boundries at every turn.
    Thursday, January 01, 2009
    In Memorium, Capital of Culture year
    Farewell then
    Capital of Culture year.

    You started on the
    eleventh of January

    which seems a bit

    but not as odd
    as putting Ringo Starr
    in a box
    on top of St George's Hall

    letting him sing

    and then
    risking him
    on Jonathan Ross.

    Apart from that
    it's all been
    quite good.
    My apologies to E. J. Thribb