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

    Thursday, August 27, 2009
    The racecourse and the Rising Sun

    I'm doing Greenbelt in style this year: staying at The Rising Sun. Wasn't that the festival theme last year - when at the moment in the Sunday service when they began singing 'Here Comes the Sun', the dark clouds which had been massing, broke over 20,000 heads?

    And I'm doing Greenbelt lite this year: just the one onstage appointment to keep; the rest, hopefully will be pure enjoyment. If you're going - see you there.

    Weather chart from www.metcheck.com - click for full forecast
    Saturday, August 22, 2009
    William Booth and his struggle with the powers
    William Booth and his struggle with the powers - my contribution to the General consensus (get it?). It's as much about the powers as it is about Booth, if you listen closely.
    Friday, August 21, 2009
    The last journey
    Remember that we are but rust,
    and to rust we shall return:
    and crushed.

    My little Rover 214 leaves the drive for the last time, ready to be pulped. A sad moment, though dignified: the engine still had enough life in it to start first time and to be driven onto the breakers' truck. For over nine years I enjoyed driving this. Even though it was red.
    Monday, August 17, 2009

    U2: Breathe
    Sunday, August 16, 2009
    Stand up to Rock Stars
    STAND UP TO ROCK STARS. I've been standing up to Bono for some time now. Post-Pop, since when the music lost the innovative energy of the Achtung era, when the ageing band reverted to rolling out a series of mild stadium teasers, and with the U2 front man, post-Iraq, publicly cozying up to war criminals Bush and Blair, I stood up to the rock star whose music had previously helped me stumble through that journey from boy to man, whose words had fired and inspired an awkward clinging to faith in the face of many setbacks, doubts and fears, whose following had held me in a loose community of sorts. I stood up to Bono and turned my back on him, his tired anthems and his bloated benevolence.

    Except that even when your back is turned on Bono you still hear U2. They're in the ears of your heart, the songs still simmer and click in your soul, words you'll never forget re-emerge at unexpected times to energize, enervate, elevate your spirit.

    And though you stopped going to U2 shows in 2001, when your brother-in-law treats you to a Wembley ticket for the 360 Tour you accept it with grateful thanks, for you know that the good things you share with these rock stars and their gathered, mobile-phone-waving community, far outweigh the niggles you have about their slowing down, losing edge, believing their own hype.

    And there, in the shining new national stadium, beneath the thrilling 360 spider/space rocket stage structure, Bono, bouncing along his circular walkway inches above the crowd, tells us all to 'be careful of small men with big ideas', and we know he's being self-referential; he's exhorting us to stop being reverential towards him. 'Stand up to rock stars', he sings. 'Come all you people, stand up for your love'. So I stand up, in my seat on Block 104, and I'm with him, Edge, Larry, Adam, for the duration, impressed by the bounce and creativity of the new songs, awed by Willie Williams' wonderful stage show.

    Actually I stood up right at the start of the set, as soon as the band launched into one of their new classics: Breathe, in which a Bono who has clearly been soaking in the White Stripes (or channelling the restless spirit of Phil Lynott) blurts out the story of a supposed assassin standing at his door and immediately sets the theme of standing up against:
    Coming from a long line of travelling sales people on my mother’s side
    I wasn’t gonna buy just anyone’s cockatoo
    So why would I invite a complete stranger into my home
    Would you
    Breathe becomes a celebration of grace under pressure: it sets your neck hairs on edge and restores your faith in whatever it is you've lost or are still looking for. From there, throughout the show, at Bono's behest, we stand up - for our love, for our faith (modestly affirmed by a tiny crucifix fixed to the top of the 360 stage structure, above a mirrorball which periodically illuminates the thousands dancing below) - and for Aung San Suu Kyi, incarcerated leader of Burma's democratic movement. U2 still campaigning, still encouraging their audience to politically engage.

    Before the encore we get onscreen a sermon from the inspirational Desmond Tutu, exhorting us to do just that, and the 90,000 gathered people stand up and listen, hearts burning, to his words of encouragement for the journey. It's a joyous, affirming, energising show. So thanks, Bono. I will stand up to rock stars. But while they keep holding the flame and burning new visions into my wires, I'll keep on standing with them too.

    thanks Pete
    Thursday, August 13, 2009
    Go to Shaw Street
    Go to Shaw Street to centre yourself. Find the gap in the fence and spend time with the round house. It's been here 300 years. Created as a lock-up for miscreants this round house sits quaintly on a green hill overseeing the skyline of a changing city. Pictures from long ago suggest that it has always been situated that way. Bottled up inside it are the hungover memories of the burly brawling boozers of yesteryear, but the lock-up has more recently become known as The Beacon, and its solid red brick walls exude a gentle peace.

    Go to Shaw Street to locate yourself. Look west-south-west from The Beacon out to the river, where countless new glass towers nestle in the business district of the city alongside the classic granite-layered gothic lines of the Royal Liver Building. Look south to the spire of SFX, the magnificent church of Saint Francis Xavier, once the largest Roman Catholic parish in England and still big in folk memory, and beyond it to the space-age dome of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. Look south-south-west along the Georgian terraces of Shaw Street and inbetween trees to the distant Anglican Cathedral, massive and brooding in sandstone. Standing here you know that you are - to quote Stewart Henderson - in a holy city, blessed with people ... a lonely city, bruised by people.

    Go to Shaw Street to root yourself. The lock-up is the centrepiece of the Everton club crest. You know where you are when you stand here. You know who you are. It's about football and belonging. It's about standing at the still point of a turning city, feeling the force of the place pull you downwards, closer into itself. It's about knowing your history, and feeling the old truth so often repeated on the terraces (and recently adopted as an amazing, commissioned, Maori Haka, here) that if you know your history, it's enough to make your heart ... fill up.

    Go to Shaw Street to ask questions of your city. Look across to the junction with Everton Brow where giant hoardings advertise Aldbury Homes' Green Brow, 'one of Liverpool's first Eco-friendly housing developments'; consider why, when you stand outside these apartments you see a prominent set of hand-written notices splayed across the windows of one flat reading: DO NOT BUY HERE.

    I go to Shaw Street because it is at the mid-point of a ten-minute walk between the hill top bus stop and the place where I meet the woman I love after she finishes work. I always allow more than ten minutes for the journey, so I can stop here.

    Pic from my Flickr photoset The Lockup, Everton Brow
    The lock-up previously blogged about in July 2004
    Friday, August 07, 2009
    Ground Control
    Anna Minton came to see me a while ago while researching her book, Ground Control; Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City, newly-published. This paragraph is the fruit of her morning's work:
    As I had done in Docklands, I wanted to get an idea of whether people in the city feel that Liverpool One is not for them but for the affluent of the region, so I went out to Norris Green, a run-down estate about a half an hour's bus ride from the centre of Liverpool. There I was quickly reminded of Pat, who had said that the shopping centre at Canary Wharf wasn't for the likes of her. In Norris Green I met John, who said, 'In terms of what's going on in the city centre, people out here don't relate to it. They say, "The city centre's nothing to do with us." The money isn't touching them at all. People can't understand who's going to shop in all those fancy stores.' Darren Guy, who is one of the founding editors of Nerve, a grassroots arts, culture and social issues magazine, said, 'I'm all for regeneration but the type of regeneration they're talking about is a bit of a con. It's just economic boosterism for the centre.'
    Minton seems to me to be one of the few journalists who raises serious questions about the ethics of regeneration. She shows how market-driven regeneration is sustained by complex mechanisms such as the discredited and morally bankrupt Pathfinder housing clearance programme (the death of the Welsh Streets in Liverpool), or Business Improvement Districts which, by means of unregulated security regimes, unaccountable CCTV operations and high-tech cleaning robots, hour by hour expel all impurities (homeless, protesters, street artists, anyone loitering without intent to buy) from city centres (you can leaflet, of course, but only as sanctioned by the city managers whose products your leaflets will endorse). She writes about Secured by Design, a methodology widely adopted in the UK through which the way that our housing and public spaces look and feel are determined by security experts rather than architects and the general public (that's why you can never find a seat in a shopping area - they mean you to keep moving).

    In contrast to how these strategies are sold to the public at large (if they are sold at all - often they are introduced with the minimum of consultation), these signifiers of regeneration are increasingly understood to mean not just social inequalities but societal malaise. Minton demonstrates how the rise in privatised high-security city centres and gated communities corresponds with a rise in a general sense of anxiety and fear in society. Affirming what many people on the receiving end tell you for nothing, Minton demonstrates how Care in the Community turned out to be just the opposite and that the Respect agenda deepened distrust between the agents of government and the people they allege to serve. In demonstrating both the causes and the effects of polarisation in society Minton's work might marry well with that of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett whose research shows that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them - the well-off as well as the poor.

    Minton offers solutions as well - celebrating European models of 'shared spaces' - and I'm left impressed that although journalists tend to leave housing and regeneration well alone ('Once every broadsheet had a housing and planning correspondent, now none of them do. 'Property', on the other hand, has spawned supplements fit to bursting and countless television programmes'), Minton has put years of careful research into this timely, readable and challenging book.

    Buy it online from News from Nowhere
    Tuesday, August 04, 2009
    Any questions?
    Here we are, fresh from the Greenbelt website, an hour in August you'll never get back if you spend it with us. Started thinking today of questions to prompt Iain in conversation. Your suggestions welcome...

    Monday, August 03, 2009
    Doing almost nothing
    Michael Craig-Martin: 'I always think of your art as one of understatement.'
    Richard Long: 'Doing almost nothing.'
    [from A Conversation in Heaven and Earth catalogue]

    He says it's doing almost nothing, but the more you think about those text works: ('A THOUSAND PIECES OF DRIFTWOOD / PLACED FOLLOWING THE WATERLINE / AND ALONG THE WALKING LINE', 'A STRAIGHT NORTHWARD WALK ACROSS DARTMOOR'), the more convinced you are of the amount of thought and preparation, the amount of shoe leather expended, the amount of sweat involved in each of his walks.

    It's Zen, really, Richard Long's art. The texts, the single photographs capturing the entire essence of a lengthy walk, the rocks placed in basic patterns on gallery floors, mud handprint patterns on gallery walls, stones placed on the ground - all very simple at first sight, sometimes to the point of banality ('A LINE MADE BY WALKING'), but operating at great depth (using the landscape in new ways, making a sculpture by walking, map works: walking as art, exploring relationships between time, distance, geography and measurement, feeding the imagination). I like it all. I like what he says about it, as in this scan from the Tate exhibition guide (in the background the Pill Ferry slipway, Long's home territory, source of the River Avon mud which he uses to create many of his works):

    If a walk is doing almost nothing, for Richard Long, then doing almost nothing involves all this:
    I like the idea of using the land without possessiing it. A walk marks time with an accumulation of footsteps. it defines the form of the land. Walking the roads and paths is to trace a portrait of the country. I have become interested in using a walk to express original ideas about the landart, and walking itself. A walk is also the means of discovering places in which to make sculpture in 'remote' areas, places of nature, places of great power and contemplation. These works are made of the place, they are a rearrangement of it and in time will be reabsorbed into it. I hope to make work for the land, not against it.
    In the keynote essay in the Heaven and Earth catalogue Clarrie Wallis sums up all this very well indeed:
    Long's art can be understood as ... a balance of the mental and the physical, the territory of ideas and the territory of materials and places. Each work, though not by definition conceptual, realises a particular idea; drawing together a sense of order and physical endurance. At the heart of Long's art is the desire for a direct engagement with the landscape, and the primacy of his own experience. This sense of present or immediate experience has something in common with Zen Buddhism's concept of 'now-ness', of being in the moment. Thus walking has proved to be an ideal means for Long to explore relationships between time, distance, geography and measurement, as they mediated by his own body. And it is through the cumulative effect of each walk that is undertaken, and the recording of sculptures made along the way, that the uniqueness of the world is revealed. Long's work is about his own physical engagement, exploring the order of the universe and nature's elemental forces. And in this sense it is about being a body in the world and about measuring the world against ourselves.
    See The Richard Long Newsletter for images and details of the exhibits in the current Tate show
    And more background, biography etc at www.richardlong.org
    Sunday, August 02, 2009
    The famished craving and the bread of life
    John 6: The famished craving and the bread of life: my humble offering for today. Gil Bailie's very rich expression a famished craving (based on a line in Eliot's Gerontium) is pregnant with meaning.