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

    Sunday, May 31, 2009
    Just about flagging
    The blue banner is still fluttering lightly from the window, in common with the many others along the avenue, and the doors and windows festooned with Everton shirts, newspaper posters, cut out heads of David Moyes. Flags, banners: they're significant things on all sorts of levels. I spoke about them tonight (and of course got in the Everton references, me in my royal blue clerical shirt and some of the congregation proudly wearing the colours too), at a Royal British Legion Combined Service for the Laying-up of an Old Standard and Dedication of a New Standard. Six days away from the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings, I spoke On flags - and setting up banners in the name of God.

    Full text of the Service here [PDF]
    Friday, May 29, 2009
    Ready for the Cup Final

    Just ninety extra minutes
    Just one more game to play
    And when we win at Wembley
    It’s Everest, the hard way

    Those long dreamed dreams of glory
    Are now one game away
    Within our reach, within our grasp
    Like Everest, the hard way

    It’s time we should feel lucky
    It’s time to have our say
    It’s time win against the odds
    Like Everest, the hard way

    All for one and for all
    We’re here and here to stay
    No such things as easy games
    Everest, the hard way

    We’ve struggled and we’ve sweated
    We’ve battled and we’ve won
    Looking to the future
    Let’s hope it’s just begun

    Let’s give the blues the blues
    And prove that skies aren’t grey
    Let’s reach the top victorious
    Everest, the hard way
    Paul Cookson (poet with ukulele) phoned to share with me his Cup Final Poem. It's a good description of the way it feels for us now, after the journey we've had to Wembley: having overcome Liverpool, Middlesborough, Aston Villa, Man United and, as David Moyes didn't fail to mention, 'Macclesfield on a rainy January' to get to the Cup Final. Paul may be taking part in the coverage of the game, possibly, giving a fan's view on a cable TV channel. If so he'll have plenty of great material to share with them, much of it having been recognised over recent years by the club and people around it. Plenty of other Everton poems on his revamped website. And while you're there do check out Paul's very excellent set of Slade beermats (print them out; use them around the house).

    Pic: My bedroom window, banner and t-shirt ready for the occasion. Thanks Diana. From my Flickr photostream
    Thursday, May 28, 2009
    Greenbelt good / Greenbelt bad
    Greenbelt good: Roy and Henry's book is out at the end of June. The God You Already Know features contributions from many of the people who have collaborated so fruitfully in Greenbelt's Soul Space over the past few years, including a couple of chapters from me (stumbling around the subjects of prayer walking and a spirituality of blogging). The publishers say (and I'm sure they'll be right), that it is 'A highly readable book on developing our spiritual and prayer lives. Full of stories, The God You Already Know considers how it is possible to recognize and build upon our own experience of God, and how we might learn from those times when God seems silent and absent.'

    Greenbelt bad: Soul Space at Greenbelt is no more, as having been progressively squeezed out of its venue and programme slot by other groups with different methods and priorities in recent times, and being clearly even more squeezed out in this years planning process, the team have decided to call it a day. Great shame.
    Friday, May 22, 2009
    By the Ballymeanoch stones

    I know this blog's been slowing down of late. Stopping entirely now for a few day's break by the Ballymeanoch stones.
    Thursday, May 21, 2009
    Geez: truth comes by trial and error

    I like the idea of a Department of Experimental Truth. It sits nicely alongside a quote I've been trying out at 'Finding Heaven in the Ordinary' workshops, by sociologist Ben Highmore, who encourages explorers of the everyday to ‘practice a kind of heuristic approach to social life that does not start out with predesignated outcomes.’ Or to put it more plainly, arriving at the truth (or at a sense of 'heaven') comes by trial and error.

    As so often before I'm grateful to Jonny for an introduction to Geez Magazine, which tells us that it has 'set up camp in the outback of the spiritual commons. A bustling spot for the over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable. For wannabe contemplatives, front-line world-changers and restless cranks.' I think I may fit their reader profile. Like Adbusters, Geez comes from Canada. There's two back issues in the post to me tonight. More soon....

    Wednesday, May 20, 2009
    No one gets inside things quite like Rennie Sparks. After being attacked by a swarm of fireflies last year, Rennie became fascinated by insects and their behaviour. She spent days studying the ant, the spider, the bug. Therein lies wisdom, as we students of The Proverbs well know. Being Rennie Sparks the resultant songs are full of minutely-detailed observations, and startling in their presumptions. "Insects - they're just about sex and death," she says, and tasks her talented husband Brett to bend his deep Albuquerque voice to these words:
    Darling, my darling, your snapping fangs don’t scare me
    I’ll leap on your spine and love you till you gnaw me down to my wings
    I’ll give you everything
    Before last night's gig began, in exchange for a tenner, Rennie herself handed me a copy of The Handsome Family's new album, Honey Moon (last time you may recall, she sold me a signed copy of her book, Evil, a disturbing tome which I still cherish). I think she enjoys these exchanges with the folks who come to Handsome Family gigs, attracted by her gems of gently skewed lyricism, her husband's canyon-deep voice, their onstage interaction - a study in understated mutual admiration and desire ("I've never seen you without a jacket before," Rennie says as Brett disrobes; shortly afterwards she's telling the audience about her love of his soft feet).

    The chief attraction for most of us is the dark gothic of so many of their songs; so dark, so gothic that you suspect self-parody, knowingness. Often they are works of sheer genius, aching with solicitous humanity, as in Weightless:
    Those poor, lost indians - when the white men found them,
    most died of TB; the rest went insane...
    This is why people OD on pills
    and jump from the Golden Gate Bridge.
    Anything to feel weightless again.
    The preoccupations of the new songs might be summarised in the words of one they shared with us last night: Wild Wood:
    Give me a swamp, a deep dark bog
    Where I can lose my way in pools of slippery mud
    Give me cold, cold rain; a cloud of stinging bugs
    Deadly nightshade, poison oak; give me the wild, wild wood
    The wild, the wild, wild, wild wood

    We can dress in skins, wrap our feet in bark
    And you can growl at me or hit me with a rock
    When you want to say, “I love you” in the dark
    And I will bark like a dog in your arms
    In the wild, the wild, wild, wild wood

    We can make a god out of sticks and bones
    Or we can pray to the trees or pray to the sun
    And our eyes will shine when we start to scream
    With the hungry wolves outside our freezing cave
    In the wild, the wild, wild, wild wood
    Clearly we are many, many miles away from Paul Weller territory here. This is heavy duty interaction with deep nature and brutal eternal verities. It's also hugely funny if you're switched on that way. An audience at a Handsome Family gig doesn't move or talk much: we just listen, hard, jaws dropping at the astonishing visions and coruscating language of Rennie and the joyous way that she and Brett put these over to those who care to be there.
    Tuesday, May 19, 2009
    Talking Walking

    Week off painting and decorating my too-long forgotten flat the other side of Liverpool (my last tenant having smoked heavily in there for seven years it needs a bit of freshening-up). So (besides a soon-to-be stepson/prospective tenant who's helping out) what better company for the work than the downloaded collection of Andrew Stuck's Talking Walking podcasts. Interviews with various people for whom walking is important: artists, designers, health workers, eccentrics (that last one, me, who will appear online sometime after having been interviewed by Andrew a little while ago). Copiously produced, with supporting notes, transcripts and videos, it's heartily recommended. First up on my iPod: Hamish Fulton.
    Saturday, May 16, 2009
    The Angels of Basford

    In Basford today, a dozen of us went out in search of heaven in the ordinary. We found these abandoned railings. Who were the Angels of Basford? Googling the phrase reveals nothing; at a guess Angels was a small business, one of the many such enterprises which Basford has hosted since ancient times along the soggy banks of the River Leen. Still many small industries active there today - tyre factors, engine specialists, suppliers to the brewing industry: all in the business of maintenance, as one person observed today, people working at the art of keeping things going, rewewal. I blogged about my visit to Basford in January. That was my reconnaissance trip; it inspired the following week's sermon; and today was the walking-talking workshop. It seemed to be enjoyed by those who came.
    Wednesday, May 13, 2009
    Hackney Ancient and Modern
    The queue in our local Post Office is endless but you learn a lot about Hackney as you wait in it. Someone has pushed to the front. The queue is loud in protest. A clerk behind the counter, appointed for her sanctity, tries to pacify a bellicose customer who thinks he's been diddled. The queue is less patient than she is. Moments later she is courteously declining the overtures of a gentleman - no stranger to the lager can, alas - who, while waiting for his Giro, has apparently fallen in love with her. On balance the queue is of the view that they are unsuited. Now a woman is complaining bitterly to her neighbour of the failure of our Health Centre to take her symptoms seriously. The queue by contrast is fascinated by them. A young man on a mobile phone forgets he has an audience. 'I gave all that up, man, when I came to Jesus'. The queue wishes he would be more specific. So the drama unfolds until at last a bright voice announces, 'Cashier number five, please!'
    Heaven in the ordinary, from The Inner City of God, John Pridmore's East End diaries. I'm loving it. Thanks Pete.
    Monday, May 11, 2009
    Got my wheels again
    The excuse was: I have a bit of a tummy to trim before the marriage ceremony. The motivation was: sunshine and a re-energised lifestyle. The financial situation is: dire, but blow it, the rest of my life's savings are being frittered away on disposable, expensive, wedding trinkets, so here's one thing of substance for me. I'm loving the Trek 7.1 FX already. Though I've so far only had a one-mile return wobble up the avenue and back to morning prayers, it's gonna be good. Steppenwolf on my wind-kissed lips, I'm heading out on the highway....
    Sunday, May 10, 2009
    Philip and the eunuch, abiding in Christ
    Philip and the eunuch, abiding in Christ. My talk, today.
    Friday, May 08, 2009
    The gaze of Patrick Keiller
    Spent a good part of the week with the films of Patrick Keiller, particularly his two celebrated travelogues, London and Robinson in Space, both of which take a long look at the economic and cultural geography of the country (the second film follows a route suggested by Daniel Defoe's Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain).

    Actually, they take a gaze. For Keiller's photographic style is to hold the camera still on its subjects, for a very long time, allowing the eye to see details which would be missed by a glance, mimicing the style of 'heritage' films where the 'great' landscapes and country houses are framed in long shots and long takes which encourage the public to be awed (and kept in our place) by the view. Keiller applies this method to views of container ports and abandoned power stations, and picturesque villages appearing to be perched on the edge of superquarries, and consequently our vision of rural England is challenged and transformed.

    When Keiller films country houses it is usually from the outside, from over a wall or between trees. It's an outsiders' view; not even a National Trust members' view (though most National Trust members are hardly 'insiders' when it comes to the social relations indicated by permissive and direction signs around the grounds of these great estates). And so, in his films, Keiller is challenging what Raymond Williams challenged in his classic of cultural critique, The Country and the City:
    What these 'great' houses do is to break the scale, by an act of will correoponding to their real and systemtic exploitation of others. For look at the sites, the facades, the defining avenues and walls, the great iron gates and the guardian lodges. These were chosen for more than the effect from the inside out; where so many admirers, too many of them writers, have stood and shared the view, finding its prospect delightful. They were chosen, also, you now see, for the other effect, from the outside looking in: a visible stamping of power, of displayed wealth and command: a social disproportion which was meant to impress and overawe.
    Williams calls these country houses 'the explicit forms of the long-class society'. They're best gazed at from the outside by those of us who are outsiders: gazed at and contemplated and judged.

    Credit to Paul Dave for the chapter The Problem of England in Visions of England: Class and Culture in Contemporary Cinema
    from which much of the analysis, and the quotations above, have been culled
    Thursday, May 07, 2009
    Dish of the Day
    Modesty would prevent me from displaying this flattering statement from the catering staff at St Deiniol's. However, I'm not that modest.
    Tuesday, May 05, 2009
    Hymns that seem to say ‘no’
    Amazing the conversations you get into at St Deiniol’s. Over a very agreeable curry this evening three of us got talking about Blake's Jerusalem: which, as one of my companions pointed out, is the only hymn which consists of four questions, the answer to each of them being ‘no’.

    He said that as a criticism of the hymn, a dislike shared by our other companion at the table. As we know, opinion is sharply divided over Jerusalem. I’m a keen fan of Blake’s classic of deep topography and psychogeographical potentiality, so, outnumbered, I swerved the conversation in another direction by offering the observation that there’s very few hymns at all which consist of questions.

    Think about it: besides And did those feet...? what else is there? Not much. We came up with And can it be...? and amused ourselves at the suggestion of Will your anchor hold in the storms of life? But then we got quite stuck. (We’d forgotten, for a while, the modern interrogative songs Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? and When I needed a neighbour were you there?, and - being men of intellectual substance - we hastily disregarded Who put the colours in the rainbow?)

    The thoughtful lull in our conversation ended when we latched onto this one: Where you there when they crucified my Lord? A hymn, we noticed, which (like Jerusalem) consists of four questions, the answer to each of them being ‘no’. ‘No’, that is, unless you believe in deep topography and psychogeographical potentiality. I left it there.

    Blake image: Wikipedia
    Friday, May 01, 2009
    Good art keeps you warm
    It is early morning on the Nova Scotia coast. On jagged rocks above icy waters, in sub-zero temperatures, a man is at work. He is collecting icicles and, using only his bare fingers and teeth, is breaking the cylinders into smaller pieces and reshaping them into a sculpture which he is slowly weaving around the dark stone.

    ‘Good art keeps you warm,' he says. ‘When it goes wrong – then you feel the cold.’ Andy Goldsworthy’s work is precarious: one slip, one misplaced piece, and the whole intricate structure can collapse. On this occasion his sculpture holds, and as the artist stands back to take a long view of his creation the morning sun aligns to the rock, causing the thin, winding ice shape to shine. It is a breathtakingly beautiful image, which causes Goldsworthy – a man of few, but precious, words – to say, ‘This place has potential.’
    This is the opening of my review of Rivers and Tides, the Andy Goldsworthy film by Thomas Riedelsheimer, which appears today in the Iona Community's April ebulletin (April? It's May 1st today. Let it pass). It is an outstanding, mesmerising, and very beautiful film. Click to see the review in full.

    Film still: Artificial Eye