<-- Google Analytics START --> <-- Google Analytics END -->

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

    Thursday, April 30, 2009
    Tracing the mystic in Middlesex
    Looking through the gaps between suburban houses, we often gain a glimpse of old oak or ash trees growing somewhere further off, in back gardens or on the Green Belt. In the winter the bare black boughs of the trees seem to writhe threateningly as they tower over the semi-detacheds like vast Kalis. These giants serve to remind us that, interpenetrating the electrically lit safety of our double-glazed homes and the ruthless quest for utility manifest in our concretised front gardens, there is an older world which will not go away, a realm whose concerns are not those of the human one. [Nick Papadimitriou]*
    At one point in The London Perambulator, the film's subject Nick Papadimitriou is speaking to film maker John Rogers the other side of the camera, whilst standing on a corner of industrial scrubland, among shattered concrete and (I'd wager) probably very near a grey toxic watercourse. He enters into a reverie of speculation about whether the stones, the soil, the scrub there can sense his presence, whether by standing there he is causing invisible tremors of excitement to run through these sentient companions of the earth. This moment illustrates one aspect of the man's vision. As Will Self affirmed in the post-film discussion at the Whitechapel Gallery last night, Nick Papadimitriou's 'deep topography' is a mystic quest.

    The hundred-quid-plus that it cost me to attend the premiere of The London Perambulator last night was well worth it. John Rogers' film is an excellent study of the character and vision of a man who would be dubbed by the literary press or Sunday supplements (if they ever discovered him) as an English eccentric, but whose clarity of vision is such that it makes you think that it's the rest of us who are eccentric, locked as we are into the banalities of capital, or what Guy Debord called The Spectacle, whereby we have lost contact with the ground we tread on, the land we inhabit; we don't see where we're going.

    Watching the film, and listening to the conversation afterwards with Self, Rogers, Iain Sinclair and Andrea Phillips, I think I finally 'got' what Nick Papadimitriou's deep topography is. Will Self (who knows and interprets Nick Papadimitriou extremely well) sees the film's subject as an urban archaeologist, stripping away the human layers of the city to get to the bedrock beneath. This is illustrated very well by a section in the film where Nick stands awed beside a gap between two suburban semis and describes the course of an old river, an ancient landscape, which he sees opening up there.

    But Nick Papadimitriou isn't stuck on the thin, 'heritage' idea of simply recovering what that landscape used to look like. He's fascinated by connecting how it has previously been with how it is now. The semis, the suburbs, are a vital part of this mystic landscape vision, this spiritual quest across space and time. This is post-industrial romanticism of the deepest order. Making 'mystical correspondences' is an Iain Sinclair term which can be justly applied to Nick Papadimitriou's work.

    Which is why Nick can spend hours meditating on shards of broken concrete fence posts or standing in the debris of abandoned power stations, awed. As Russell Brand puts it in the film, Nick Papadimitriou is “like some ludicrously pragmatic mystic, some dull trudging trainspotting alchemist. He hoovers up magic from stone and brick and concrete”. Last night Will Self said that there is a liberating spirituality in what Nick does: 'in finding these things beautiful he is helping himself, and the commonality'.

    It's good to gaze on the overlooked, to turn the camera (the gaze, the pen) onto the edgelands. Because the edgelands are a big part of who we are, and they're not regarded nearly enough. This came out again and again in the film and in the stimulating conversation afterwards. Nick Papadimitriou endlessly roams the roads and rough sites of old Middlesex collating observations in his massive (physical and mental) archive. Iain Sinclair says that The London Perambulator is 'the raw material for an epic' which will probably never be made, because despite being the friend and muse of Russell Brand and Will Self, Nick Papadimitriou is not burdened by any celebrity intentions. His aim in life is to gather so much of the stuff of Middlesex into himself that by the time he dies he will have become so integrated into the area that he is part of the fabric itself. All this raw poetic: 'his only option is to disappear completely into it', says Sinclair.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2009
    East End Perambulations

    If you're looking for me this is where you'll find me Wednesday evening. At the East End Film Festival savouring the delights of John Rogers' The London Perambulator. You will, I assure you, hear more about this very soon.
    Sunday, April 26, 2009
    The author of life eats broiled fish
    The author of life eats broiled fish - a profound statement about the resurrected Jesus. My talk, today.
    Friday, April 24, 2009
    Middle class mooching
    A nice riposte to Joe's article on psychogeography, from a correspondent in todays NS:

    I think that Mr Langston can be challenged about his class assumptions of the psychogeographic fraternity (if he intended to accuse my walking mate Jim of being a middle class sociologist I'd advise him to plan a quick exit beforehand), and his cultural analysis (wasn't football, for instance, founded by Etonians, wasn't Peter Sallis a Twickenham-born grammar school boy?). But his idea of Compo and Clegg as ur-psychogeographers is winning. And he's right. It's all just about mooching around, really. A pursuit in which members of all classes excel; I'm never quite sure what class I am or want to be, but I'm a faithful student of the art. Thanks, Mr Langston: love it.

    Clipping from New Statesman
    Wednesday, April 22, 2009
    Vocation is a call to availability
    'Vocation is a call to availability', writes Ian Fraser in the current Coracle. The Iona Community's oldest member at 91, Ian keeps on with the wisdom of years - wisdom he's had from before he had years - and I'm particularly struck by that phrase today.
    Vocation is a call to availability. The availability is to do whatever is wanted, whatever one's job - for me it meant breaking away from the usual parish assignment, to work with labouring gangs in industry. For those of us who are ordained, the calling is simply to availability, not to a particular status. We all have to do whatever is wanted by God. ...
    The bright young lass in the Dunfermline fish shop at which we were customers, when we served Rosyth, took the chance, when there was no queue, to say to me, 'It must be great to have a job like yours - doing good all day, every day.' I replied, 'Your cheerful service all day and every day to people who come into this shop may count for a lot more than anything I ever did in my life.' She was mystified and, at the same time, a bit encouraged.
    Tuesday, April 21, 2009
    Map Addict
    Despite his best efforts to find the right time for us to meet, unfortunately Mike Parker never managed to make it here on his travels while researching his book on map addiction (an infatuation I share). If his publisher's notes are to be believed then Mike, whose 'own impressive map collection was founded on a virulent teenage shoplifting habit', seems to have produced a thorough, and entertaining, 'celebration of all things maps'. It's out on 30 April and it's on my wish list.
    Monday, April 20, 2009
    Happy days
    Oh, by the way, forgot to mention yesterday, but... we're in a cup final again.

    We're great, us. Well very, very good anyway. Happy days.

    Pic: BBC
    Sunday, April 19, 2009
    Ballard is dead

    Having a word created, based on your name, means that you've made quite an impression. I never warmed to J.G. Ballard's work but I doubt that he was aiming at warmth. An essential writer, deeply disturbing because the dystopias he creates are so close to reality, so close to home. Hearing of Ballard's death today drove me back to the Ballardian website (a trove) and in particular “Paradigm of nowhere”: Shepperton, a photo essay (part 2) which is Simon Sellars' description of his 'traversal of a distinct psychic terrain (studiously avoiding the dreaded “p*****geography” word): the blanket overlay of Shepperton with a mental template gleaned from so many Ballard novels...'

    Text boxes from www.ballardian.com
    Saturday, April 18, 2009
    NS namecheck

    From this week's New Statesman. Cheers Joe
    Friday, April 17, 2009
    One of Diana
    A blog entry to satisfy the inquisitive and curious readers among you. Following up last Sunday's extraordinary announcement, after much joshing and teasing the camera-shy fiance agreed to have her daughter take a pic of her today. This is it.
    Wednesday, April 15, 2009
    Respect is (over) due
    Drove past Anfield at 3.30 with the Hillsborough memorial service still in progress inside, and the pavements and central reservations of Priory Road, Utting Avenue and surrounding streets rammed with illegally parked vehicles: no wardens ticketing today. Returned just before sunset, for a few solemn minutes surveying the messages written on cards attached to the bunches of flowers lining Anfield Road pavement, the football scarves and shirts of many colours hanging from the gates, that eternal flame flickering beneath the names of the 96.

    In honesty, I only made this visit to respect the wishes of my niece and her friend, visiting today from down South, born five years after the carnage at Leppings Lane but struck by the story, wanting to witness and be part of the occasion. I felt more like a grief tourist, standing there more conscious of the closing dark and the chill wind blowing around the stadium than engaged with the scene in which I stood. Though I hope that by just being there I was showing a sign of respect, to the deceased, to their families still fighting for justice twenty years after the organisational debacle which resulted in the deaths of their loved ones - who were only trying to watch a football match.

    Maybe I'm griefed out; we've been through twenty of these days now. They'll continue, rightly. But the most energy in the day's events came in the heckling which Andy Burnham got from people demanding the goverment acts on its otherwise empty promises to release all the documents pertaining to that fatally botched police operation. We've paid our floral, solemn respects over and over and over. Still haven't had any respect returned from those who could admit failure, accept judgement and liberate closure. The institutional paralysis - which will not permit accountability or admit truth - must be broken. Respect is essential. Respect is overdue.

    Pic: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images from The Guardian
    Hillsborough Justice Campaign website here
    Tuesday, April 14, 2009
    The deep topographer on screen
    Wish I could get to this (I might yet do): a screening of John Rogers' newly-completed documentary about deep topographer Nick Papadimitriou, The London Perambulator, at the East End Film Festival at the Whitechapel Gallery Wed 29th April at 7pm. Followed by a post-screening panel discussion 'with the greats of psychgeography' - Will Self, Iain Sinclair and Andrea Philips. About the film, John writes: 'As well as footage from walks I've done with Nick over the past year it features fantastic interviews with Russell Brand, Will Self and Iain Sinclair. ' It's been a labour of love for him and I bet it's going to be excellent. See you there - maybe.

    Screen shot montage from John Rogers
    Sunday, April 12, 2009
    Easter: a new life
    Believe me, I'm as surprised as anyone by this news, but as of this Easter my confirmed bachelor status is redundant. Diana and I are engaged. Photo of her hand, right, will have to do for now until she - camera-shy - permits me to post a head-and-shoulder shot sometime.
    Saturday, April 11, 2009
    That's Birmingham for you

    Ok, I accept, Birmingham here is a model for all our cities. Indifference by G. A. Studdert Kennedy from The Unutterable Beauty. That'll do for this inbetween, back-to-the-shops sort of day.

    Thanks, Ann for the link
    Friday, April 10, 2009
    I hurt myself today

    The first section of my Good Friday meditation hour, Seven Words from the Cross. It owes a lot to Lies Damned Lies, but that Johnny Cash / Nine Inch Nails opener is awesome. Entire text here [pdf].
    Thursday, April 09, 2009
    The benefit of the doubt
    We live in extraordinary spiritual times, when it is common to see a large part of society leading exemplary lives without religion of any persuasion. They come to church to look at architecture or hear music. And sometimes to take part in delightful old rites, or sad ones, but with no real belief, and with the Church giving them, in its love, the benefit of the doubt.

    It has happened before. The Revd Charles Wesley had officiated for years when, one Sunday morning, about to set off to take the service, he felt for the first time, almost physically as well as spiritually, the warmth of Christ. He remembered a verse in Leviticus, “The fire shall ever be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.” And he wrote:

    O thou who camest from above
    The fire celestial to impart,
    Kindle a flame of sacred love
    On the mean altar of my heart,

    believing that he had not been a Christian until that moment.
    The sort of wisdom we've come to anticipate from Ronald Blythe. Celebrating the benefit of the doubt; perfect for Maundy Thursday. I understand what he means about Wesley. One day, maybe, I'll believe that I'm a Christian too.
    Tuesday, April 07, 2009
    Seeking the unified life
    J.G. Davies' (1973) Every Day God: Encountering the Holy in World and Worship is a rich encounter. Not least the chapter titled Worldly Holiness which opens thus:

    I'm with Spina, and can sympathise with Feuerbach, and having myself recently launched happily and headlong into a relationship (yes, not with something digital but with another human being) I'm keenly aware how all this stuff seriously addresses not just the social and political realm, but the intimately personal too. The inherited weight of centuries of dualistic thinking makes seeking the unified life as difficult today as ever. Deep thanks to those helping us in the struggle to attain present maturity.
    Sunday, April 05, 2009
    M62: the biography
    Nice post from Joe yesterday: M62: the biography, in which he spent the whole of a journey to Leeds and back 'regaling' his friends and colleagues, Kate and Bob, with 'arcane information' about the M62. Not just information but family history, in which the coal seams which cause the subsidence on the Chat Moss section were mined by his granddad, and 'the ruler-straight bit of motorway near Burtonwood services that used to be one of the longest runways in Europe, at the Burtonwood American air base, which is where my granddad met my grandma during the war.' When he's driving this stretch at dusk, he has a vision of the B17 Flying Fortresses taking off in procession in front of him, 'just clearing my bonnet, lit up by bomber’s moons'. Reading this I'm transported back to the Burtonwood and Birchwood legs of my walk and the echoes of past lives on that lonely, mossy ground.
    Saturday, April 04, 2009
    Across the Park: common ground
    EVERTON AT ANFIELD - CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND. There's a chapter title to conjure with. It refers to the first Everton team to win the league, in 1890/91, when based, as any fule kno, at Anfield. They'd been there since 1884 when on 27 September the very first Everton team beat Earlestown 5-0. You can tell I'm enjoying reading Across The Park, Peter Lupson's exploration of the tremendous amount of common ground that exists between our city's two clubs in history, including, the, er, common ground. Which, as any fule kno, we had first. It probably wasn't its intention but I'm certain that this book will be influential in supporting the proposal (which, in these times of economic realism, has growing credibility) for one stadium for the city.
    Thursday, April 02, 2009
    It's good to share our gifts
    It's not often I let myself stray into work territory in this blog (except the talks of course, which I archive for the benefit of surfing last-minute preachers). However I reflected back on five years in post for the parish magazine today. In the absence of any other great original ideas at the moment and with My Name is Earl on in five minutes time, I thought I'd share the article here.

    Click image or here for enlarged text [pdf]
    Wednesday, April 01, 2009
    Higamos Hogamos: the meaning of life
    "The philosopher William James from the early 1900s [would] supposedly ... experiment with drugs - nitrous oxide was one of his favourites - to aid his philosophical musings. One night he was sort of ‘out there’ and thought he’d discovered the meaning of life, which he jotted down on a piece of paper. When he woke up in the morning from his stupor, he was really excited as he searched for this paper. He couldn’t remember what he’d written but knew it was very profound. When he found it, it just said: HIGAMOS HOGAMOS."
    Great name for a group, then, Higamos Hogamos. And their music, space-pop, motor-glam, chugging Can references, is just right for the onset of spring, open windows on the open road. "An electronically enhanced blend of swaggering kosmische that somehow naturally fits into the wyrdest end of the English psychedelic tradition." That's what they call it. That'll do nicely, thanks.

    Listen / buy Higamos Hogamos here