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

    Monday, August 11, 2003
    Thinking about benches
    Reading about Kirsty MacColl today in City journal, as Goldsmith's College are offering a scholarship in her name. The singer died in a swimming accident three years ago, and on 12 August 2001 fans erected a memorial bench to her in Soho Square, London.

    Seems a fitting memorial. MacColl celebrated the place in a song on Titanic Days called Soho Square, "a place where lovers often meet, a place of awkward and sometimes illicit encounters", as the City article describes it. A bench is a good choice (rather than a statue or fountain, for example) because from benches, watchful people observe life, on benches conversations take place. And Kirsty MacColl was an acute observer of life, city life, her songs caringly express the rise and fall of lovers' conversations. "She was a storyteller in the sense that Walter Benjamin meant it, i.e. those whose 'counsel, woven into the fabric of real life, is wisdom'." (City, quoting Benjamin's Illuminations) Which is why it's fitting that her name will support students of 'culture, globalisation and the city' in their research.

    All this got me thinking about benches. My favourite recent bench was one I discovered halfway up the steep climb into the wooded hills above Crinan Harbour. It's on a bend, where the trees clear and the view down to the harbour opens up into a wonderful panorama sweeping across the Sound of Jura, taking in the small isles of Scarba, Luing, Shuna, and Mull beyond. That bench is the gift of a local woman who evidently enjoyed that walk so much that she wanted to share her love of that view by offering grateful travellers the use of that wonderfully-positioned seat for generations to come.

    If I were to choose a bench for myself, where would it be? Perhaps on the promenade at Llandudno. This could be a real sign of my age, but since being a teenager cycling or motorbiking to that destination I've always loved sitting there, breathing in the good air and that generous open Irish Sea view. Or closer to home, I'd love a bench on top of Everton Heights, this city's best vantage point. Looking out from a bench here, the buildings of the city tumble together beneath your feet, almost spilling into the Mersey, and in the distance the Irish Sea again features. So close to the minutae of the city's life, it's a place for breathing in the bigger picture.