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

    The riots reprised

    Lydford Parish and Community Magazine
    September 2011

    When I wrote last month's editorial on the subject of the 1981 Toxteth riots I didn't anticipate the events of the coming weeks, though I did comment that, 'Then, as now, there was discontent on the streets.'. My friend Robert Gallagher, priest of St Margaret's, Toxteth, and his wife Hilary experienced first hand the trauma of 8 August as the rioters in Liverpool 8 reached the Vicarage garden: 'We were afraid, and up until 4am, me thinking of where I could put my record collection for safe keeping. Back to bed for 5'. Robert and Hilary witnessed the flow and ebb of the unrest over the coming days, and played their part in the community's efforts to clean-up. On 9 August Robert hosted a Vigil in St Margaret's, 'for Silence upon Ourselves and to Listen to The Parish', and on 10 August he took part in a meeting 'of community and mixed age, of the clean-up volunteers, friends and siblings of 'rioters' and veterans of the 1981 'Riots'. Well attended. Concerned about comers-in stirring it. Good listening to each other.'

    Robert and Hilary, devoted to the area and its people (most of them good, if overwhelmingly poor), were thankful for the phone-calls and e-mails of concern they received from all over. Of their August 2011 experiences Robert wrote:

    We had touched fear,.. for our home, ourselves, and my record-collection. But to come under Silence too,.. to seek to hold and absorb the fear,.. to come to know some more the freedom in our thinking,.. to find a way again to go on listening and a longing to understand.

    The riot was shocking. We will all suffer the consequences. There is absolutely no excuse for such behaviour; but some very compelling reasons. I am reminded of some words from the 1960s, from the Psychiatrist R.D.Laing, that there is no such thing as 'madness', only rational decisions made in intolerable circumstances.

    And some words from The Dark Ages, when despotic kings, robber barons, thugs, thieves and riot, roamed the leafy lanes of Olde Englande ...

    "Do not give up then, but work away at it till you have this longing. When you first begin, you find only darkness, and as it were a cloud of unknowing. You don't know what this means except that in your will you feel a simple steadfast intention reaching out towards God. Do what you will, this darkness and this cloud remain between you and God, and stop you both from seeing him in the clear light of rational understanding, and from experiencing his loving sweetness in your affection. Reconcile yourself to wait in this darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after him whom you love. For if you are to feel him or to see him in this life, it must always be in this cloud, in this darkness. And if you will work hard at what I tell you, I believe that through God's mercy you will achieve this very thing: 'strike on that cloud of unknowing with a longing dart of love'."