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Preview: John Davies

John Davies



updated regularly from a parish in Liverpool, UK



Updated: 2010-05-11T11:56:14.287+01:00

 



The good man Morton and the scoundrel Cole

2010-04-30T14:35:54.441+01:00

For technical reasons to do with Blogger not supporting my kind of website any more, my blog is migrating to my Typepad pages. Read the first one here: The good man Morton and the scoundrel Cole, a review of two very good books indeed.



John Davies Talking Walking

2010-04-06T18:56:37.133+01:00

My conversation with Andrew Stuck on his excellent Talking Walking website.



On throwing up in the gutter and other great moments with Jim

2010-01-20T20:11:47.480Z

The text of my tribute to Jim Hart, which I improvised around during my contribution to today's event at St Michael in the City, where around thirty or forty assorted folks from different parts of Jim's rich life gathered to remember him in word, image, prayer (including a Mourners' Kaddish) and song. The final act of a lovely short service arranged and led so sensitively by Mike Williams - The Dream of Glyndwr - moved me deeply, applying the words of the Welsh ur-hero to Jim's life and destiny, the whole thing was excellent.....My friendship with Jim has developed over the past 15 years - since Jesus in the city (expand)... more recently taken the form of visits to his house and day trips out, usually in my car, to exotic locations within a day’s drive of here: Lancaster, Wakefield, Shrewsbury, Carlisle and Shap, the canals of Wigan and the cemeteries of North Manchester.A typical day’s outing with Jim:Turn up at his house - prompt, knowing that he’d be waiting for you, eager to get out and get going.Exchange the firm handshake and almost immediately receive in both hands a bundle of papers pertaining to the day’s adventure - a map, customised by Jim with various notes written in the margins; an article culled from the London Review of Books or the Economist; one of Jim’s own pieces of writing, close-typed and printed out, illustrated by items from his massive photographic collection.Set out - Jim remembering precisely where we left off our conversations last time we met, which may have been a couple of months ago, picking up, probing, and of course commenting plainly about whatever the subject matter of the moment was.Pick up Dave in Old Swan where joviality and gentle joshing set in, me in the driving seat, Dave in the back but Jim very much in control: us two happy to let ourselves be guided by him.Out of town on a route which soon deviates from the main roads. This phenomenon owes much, I’m sure, to Jim’s vast cycling and motorcycling experience, but equally much to his great capacity for poring over maps and being able to remember the smallest details of a road, a landscape, to be able to map the land in his mind whilst on the move, remarkably well.It made for a more demanding drive for me - in his enthusiasm for the journey and his restless conversation Jim never seemed to notice how I got tired, weaving around farm roads for seven long hours - Dave did, I think. Jim hardly blinked either, on the day when a migrane had set in for me part way through the day and as I stopped the car at Millstead for Jim to get out I opened my door and threw up in the gutter. I looked up sheepishly and apologetically only to see Jim brandishing more of the usual familiar paperwork to leave for me to read and talk to him about next time.But of course it also made for a fascinating day. Jim’s encyclopaedic knowledge of places - usually expressed in terms of the people’s history, the stories of the working people, their integrity and their oppression written in the stones of a place. Jim’s humour, Jim’s ability to get a conversation going with a whole range of people met along the way: people serving us bacon butties in roadside cafes, publicans and others propping up bars we lunched in, walkers, traffic wardens, shop staff, volunteers in civic buildings we ventured into, whose knowledge of their place would be severely tested up against Jim’s.Some things I value so much about Jim:His endless enthusiasm for learning. Not learning passed on to him by the academy, but learning on his own terms: learning from the books he chose to read - and what stimulating books they are, lining his living room and kitchen walls; learning from people, who he valued so much and listened to so hard that it was always testing, conversing with him, as he reminded you of precisely what you’d said on the subject last time you spoke: but so supportively. An autodidact - whose journey I relate to (expand).His deep sense of justice - injustice - seeing things from the perspective of[...]



On running away from God

2010-01-10T14:12:21.961Z

My latest offering, a spin on the Jonah and so-called 'prodigal son' stories (the first part of their journeys not the conclusions: On running away from God.



'Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways' by Phil Smith

2009-12-17T21:09:29.742Z

Good to know that Phil Smith's Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways is just emerging from the printers:
My name is not on the book, though I wrote it. It takes the form of a documentary-fictional collection of the internal documents, diary fragments, letters, emails, narratives, notebooks and handbooks of a loose coalition of artists, performers, 'alternative' walkers and pedestrian geographers. All illustrated in full colour by Tony Weaver, who designed the Wrights & Sites' Mis-Guide books.

It is an attempt to celebrate the practices of artists, activists, performers and walkers who have shaped a new walking culture since the collapse of the 1990s Psychogeographical Associations.

The fragmentary and slippery format recognises the disparate, loosely interwoven and rapidly evolving uses of walking today: as performance, as exploration, as urban resistance, as activism, as an ambulatory practice of geography, as meditation, as post-tourism, as dissident mapping, as subversion of and rejoicing in the everyday. 'Mythogeography' celebrates that interweaving, its contradictions and complementarities, and is an attempt at a handbook for those who want to be part of it.
And there's a website too, 'which pushes it all a little bit further', Phil says. I'd say quite a lot further. It's packed with goodies, provocations and resources: check out the booklist for a lifetime's worth of ambulatory elucidation. I feature in the site as a contributor of photographs (on the page devoted to Manchester, Mythogeography and Mobile Machinoeki) and in a list of Mythogeographic Characters ('Concepts not costumes, these ‘characters’ are dissolute identities': Pilgrim, Crab, the Nomad, the Doctor, “Guy Debord”, Toby the Marxist Tramp, the Small Vicar, Comus, Pontiflunk, Cecile Oak).

Phil is a performer who spends some of his time carrying out ‘subversions’ of the ‘standard’ guided tour. ‘Deploy[ing] the ideas of mythogeography, placing the fictional, mistaken and personal on equal terms with factual, heritage and municipal histories’, he takes his walking companions on alternative journeys in tourist sites in South West England. So National Trust houses and Exeter's tourist hives become 'place[s] of performance, space[s] of multiple layers, including ambience and psychogeographical effects, geological, archaeological and historiographical data, myths, rumours and lies, unrealised architectures and collectively expressed desires, autobiographical associations, incongruities and accidental hybrids.'

Finding the 'hidden Real' in places is one of Phil's intentions. The Mythogeographer suggests that having fun - walking sideways - is one of the best ways of achieving this.



Jim Hart - Rest in Passion

2009-11-20T20:55:00.074Z

My good friend and mentor Jim Hart died today. Determined for some time now to end his own life, as his Parkinsons worsened, his body finally gave in to the self-inflicted punishments he'd been dealing it. He died as he lived: bloody-mindedly, determinedly. Passionately. Inadvisedly. I doubt he will rest in peace, the old provocateur. He will rest in passion and rise again in ragged glory still inpatient with authority, still railing at injustice, still walking the walk of the restless autodidact whose whole life was an endless journey of discovery, watered through a raging thirst for knowledge, forever on the move.I've spent most of today drafting a Research Essay in which I reflect back on forty years of urban walking, realising that since childhood I have enjoyed walking in the city, whether exploring the streets with others whilst at play, or in 1971 taking a memorable quarter-mile walk in the company of teachers and classmates, which symbolised our move out from our ‘old’ school building into our ‘new’ one. This walk has stayed in my mind as at the age of nine it awoke in me an awareness of how a simple journey on foot can reveal the power and complexity of people’s relationships with particular places, a phenomenon which I have continued to explore ever since. I was thinking of Jim as I wrote, wondering how he was, thinking I must get to see him soon to record a conversation about his approach to urban exploration. Jim hosted a walk during the 1995 Jesus in the City conference - a guided walk of Toxteth, taking us through the faded Georgian terraces and back alleyways and shoddy social housing of L8, talking about their social and economic history in terms which made connections which fizzed with insight and provocation. It was an afternoon which matured me theologically, awoke me to ways of viewing the city which I'd never thought of before, strengthened my resolve to engage with this particular city and its people. After that walk I kept in touch with Jim, grew a friendship with a man who was often difficult to deal with, out of order on many things, but ultimately a man whose passions for God and justice I shared. Always energising, a visit to Jim's. Always challenging: coming away laden with papers which he'd written on all manner of subjects which he demanded be immediately read and responded to thoroughly. Always exhausing, a walk with Jim - he would soak up a place at speed and spin out endless insights while I (and often his good friend Dave), many years his younger, would struggle to keep physical and mental pace.In a pub near a cemetery in North Manchester on our visit to Irish Republican graves last year the woman serving us lunch asked me, 'What would your dad like to eat?' Now my actual dad is alive and we get on well, but it was nice to be associated with Jim in this way, albeit mistakenly. Jim mentored me, tormented me. And his example - a working class lad with a desire to know more, fully explore and write about life as he saw it - was a direct influence on me and my own ongoing mental fight.Suffolk-born Jim was soon out exploring the whole of Britain, as his unpublished gem Boy on Bicycle describes. Liverpool has been his home for much of his adult life, where he has been variously a self-elected youth worker (operating from his flat on an outer housing estate, taking groups of youngsters on long bicycle journeys in conditions which would seem nightmarish to today's risk assessment addicts), a researcher and advisor to churches on the social settings in which they served, an educator among the poor, an agitator of bishops and diocesan secretaries, a thinker, a depressive, an inadvisedly heavy drinker, a tireless reader, writer and sharer of knowledge. A frustration. A disciple of Christ. A friend to many, some who have fallen out with him and fallen away but retain a fondness for the man.I have blogged about Jim and his influence on me many times. It's[...]



Remembrance: Coming Home

2009-11-09T09:42:38.765Z

As a rookie curate I preached some rather mealy-mouthed pacifistic sermons on Remembrance Sunday. Since then I've been learning to live with complexity and to listen harder to the stories of people's lives. Hence my first blog offering for a while (moving house etc has kept me away from the keyboard), Remembrance: Coming Home



On the Tapscott trail with Iain Sinclair

2009-10-15T12:52:53.896+01:00

The crocodile, says Iain Sinclair, seems to be a ubiquitous presence in grafitti protesting against the devouring of communities by sharp-tooted predatory redevelopers. He has seen it often painted on the blue-panelled wooden walls encircling the Olympic site in Hackney. Yesterday I walked him around Liverpool 8's Welsh Streets, a vast area of working-class terraces reduced from a living, active community to a tinned-up wilderness by one signature sweep of John Prescott's hand. The rock-faced stone steeple of the Welsh Presbyterian Church still shines in the Princes Road afternoon sun but its roof is down, its stained glass windows out. We two Welshmen-of-sorts (Sinclair Cardiff-born, me Cardiff-educated) noted that the place still carries its voice: its security fences are a billboard for nonconformist opinion, dissidents of temperance objecting to the developers' voracity, dissenters with a hold on local truths protesting the developers' deceptions: NO MORE DEMOLITION - NO MORE BULL.Our walk was informed by Bill Griffiths' epic Liverpool poem Mr Tapscott (see previous blogs here) which weaves the story of the city together with a case of murder and false imprisonment which contributed to the general atmosphere of distrust between police and people in L8, pre-riots 1981. So we took in riot hot-spots (including the Rialto corner, now site of a city council-sponsored pavement etching quoting Psalm 133: 'Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!'); we marvelled at the glory of Princes Park and its surrounding roads with their grand Victorian / Georgian designs; and we enjoyed our walk up Lodge Lane where one person noting our stopping, pointing, asked us if we needed help, and another group seeing us photographing the facade of the Middle Eastern Restaurant, said: 'Take our picture if you like, we're from Lodgy you know'. In MT BELLY'S ENGLISH CAFE AND SANDWICH BAR we reflected on how a place of such notoriety could feel, in actuality, so safe and so friendly. In reading Bill's poem I'd been taken by how in history, Lodge Lane was both the site of the 1981 Coral Bookmakers murder, and previously the home of city philanthropist William Roscoe. In reading this part of the city as we walked its streets Iain had come to see it as a place of peace and potential, and was surprised at how few people were out enjoying its delights. The brooding unrest of the neighbourhood's downtrodden people bred riots in 1981 and emerges in dissident graffiti and anti-Pathfinder Programme protests in 2009. The regeneration which matters here bears no relation to the glistening empty apartments rising above the swank streets of Liverpool One, but is seen in men making a tenuous start in business (MT BELLY'S host was generous in his helpings of dripping sandwiches and free mugs of tea) and by the recent emergence of groups of people like The Friends of Princes Park, reclaiming territory previously lost to (unfounded) fears of crime in public places.Pics from my On the Tapscott trail with Iain Sinclair Flickr photoset[...]



Save Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield

2009-10-27T10:51:12.263Z

This just in. The vice-chancellor needs to know what you think...
Many students, academics and others associated with the discipline of Biblical Studies around the world have been shocked to hear of the news that the University of Sheffield is considering closing down the undergraduate program in the Biblical Studies Department.

* The department of Biblical Studies should be saved because it has a worldwide reputation for being one of the finest places to engage in the discipline anywhere in the world as the staff are some of the leaders in the field (such as Dr James Crossley, Professor Hugh Pyper, Professor Cheryl Exum and Professor Keith Whitelam).

* In the recent Research Assessment Exercise, all members of staff were recognized as producing international quality research and 65% of all work submitted was assessed as 'world-leading' (4*) or 'internationally excellent' (3*). The Department is ranked third in the country on the basis of its 4* and 3* publications.

* On international ratings alone the department is ranked joint first.

* It boasts having some of the finest Biblical scholars in the world.

* The closure of the undergraduate degree program would not only affect the University of Sheffield, but the discipline worldwide.

* In the National Student Survey the department comes out as one of the best departments in the country. Graduating students always rate the department very highly.

Academics, students and others associated with biblical studies and other disciplines have been sending in their letters of support. The team campaigning to keep the department open have had letters from every continent. The response so far has been overwhelming.

Please use
this website to find out why the Biblical Studies Department should not be shut down and to have your say.
UPDATE 27 October 2009: The welcome news that due to the strong response to the university's proposal, the department has been saved: see here.



First steps with the new family

2009-10-12T11:23:29.694+01:00

(image)
Leaving church on the wedding day. Thanks Linda for sharing this and others from the Facebook album. There should be more to follow from us. If you have any to share, do email them to john[at]johndavies.org.



Should a man blog on his wedding day?

2009-09-25T23:40:03.521+01:00

(image) Should a man blog on his wedding day?

Better men than I have done it and escaped opprobrium as geeks or a-romantics. But I might not.

If a man blogs on his wedding day it must mean that:
- he's so relaxed about the forthcoming nuptials that he can switch into reflexive mode for half an hour;
- he's so full of the occasion that he needs the world - or at least his 150 online readers - to know;
- he's so addicted to the computer that he just can't help himself.

If a man blogs on his wedding day it's probably because:
- he can't sleep and has to fill the long hours before the arrival of the best man and the wedding cars;
- his wife-in-waiting can't sleep and she's been phoning every 20 minutes since 5.30am, so he may as well get up;
- after hours and days of escorting his beloved shopping for chocolates, bedding, jewels, rings and lingerie the emotionally and financially shattered groom-to-be is asleep, and blogging is what he does in his sleep.

If a man blogs on his wedding day it's likely that:
- it's displacement activity for the speech he can't complete;
- it takes his mind off that embarrassing 'first dance' he'll be subjected to later;
- he needed to make a last-minute honeymoon booking and on the world wide web one thing leads to another.

I shan't be blogging on my wedding day. But the night before: that's near enough.

John and Diana Davies, as of 26 Sept 2009. A marriage made in Toxteth and to be continued in Croxteth
Thanks to all who've supported and encouraged us on our way towards the 'big day'



Stag Night Karting

2009-09-21T07:28:26.778+01:00

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My last Saturday of singleness spent on a kart track in Aintree Industrial Estate. Filmed on his phone by Mark Coleman.

From my Stag Night - Karting - September 2009 Flickr video set



The Red Horse at Cheltenham

2009-09-16T13:01:27.462+01:00

Billy Childish may have stolen the (art) show at Greenbelt with his engaging conversation with Malcolm Doney - which began with him presenting himself as a determined religious outsider ('I never read the Old Testament ... it's all a bit bloody and ghastly, innit? No, I like the other feller, the later one, he's all friendly...') and developed into a candid and thoughtful explication of his Chatham-style, damaged goods take on spirituality. But in the venue of racing legends where around the site equine champions are celebrated in outdoor statuary, romanesque wall friezes and Hall of Fame history display panels, it was a red horse which most captivated me, and many others, the work of another artist in the very excellent Visionaries exhibition.

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Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Green George catches the eye with its bright and unexpected colours. Green George... why? In an artists statement Hicks-Jenkins says that his work began with the horse:
‘Once I'd completed the horse, the incandescent colour of which was an early notion I'd had to make the saint's mount almost a creature of another, more heavenly realm, I knew in a moment that no conventional skin colour for Saint George could withstand close proximity to that flaming Cadmium Red. Suddenly green became my favoured option for George. And once I'd started painting with a green-laden brush, I loved the results. I loved the way red applied to George's lips and hectic cheeks transformed his appearance into a glorious and unexpected adventure. I loved the links green made to ideas of re-generation and rebirth, the allusion to a whippy sapling flooded with the promise of newness, growth and hope. Just what a warrior saint should be. And of course there was the idea of Viriditas (Green Flame), the term coined by Hildegard of Bingen to express the 'greening power of God'.
All this, of course, at Greenbelt which really pulled out the stops on the visual arts front this year. Loved it.




Luminescence at the pit head

2009-09-14T15:30:26.389+01:00

(image) Brian Salkeld recalls the past: in his poem, displayed in laminate on an information board on the old Sutton Manor Collery site, the ex-miner says, 'The years roll back, I hear the sound / Of winding engine steam / I see the pulleys turning / On the headgear in my dream'.

The spin on the Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa's Dream is that '...the head of a girl with eyes closed, seemingly in a dream-like state ... is the artist’s response to ... conversations with the ex-miners and members of the wider local community who wanted a piece that looked to a brighter future and created a beautiful and contemplative space for future generations, not least their own grandchildren, at the top of the former spoil heap.'

On a sunny Sunday afternoon it's not contemplative, because beneath Dream children play, dogs sniff and tourists angle their lenses upwards towards the strange head. But it has a beauty - you can tell that when you're speeding along the M62 beneath it, flicking your eyes between the trees looking for a glance. Close up it becomes more apparent, the loveliness of this shining figure, luminescent in Spanish dolomite and titanium dioxide, sitting on the forty years worth of untouched coal which permeates the four miles of seams which run beneath.

I don't know if Dream carries any more or less meaning as a gathering-point for the young people of St Helens than the night clubs, park gates and garage forecourts of the town which sits below this silent head, or for their hopes and aspirations. But it is a remarkable contribution to the local landscape and it does inspire interest, provoke stillness, register respect.

Pic from my Dream Flickr photoset



Simulacra and small epiphanies in the new Edinburgh

2009-09-09T07:14:29.771+01:00

Rather late but in Borders at the weekend, during a lull in bed-linen purchasing I at last located the issue of Product which features Gordon McGregor's very readable essay on psychogeography, The Paths of Least Resistance.

(image) Mister Roy noted in his review of the article ages ago, that this piece, published in 'Scotland's finest arts and politics magazine', 'offers a welcome north-of-the-border perspective, as a lot of writing about psychogeography stays trapped in a kind of Dunhill packet 'London - Paris - New York' axis.' Which is partly true, though this particular pre-history of contemporary psychogeography ends with the Situationists and inevitably features various Parisien flaneurs. Although R.L. Stevenson gets a welcome inclusion it's inescapable that his Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is set in
London. Iain Sinclair and his capital-city contemporaries are studiously ignored here, but there is mention of two of his oft-quoted inspirations, Blake and De Quincey.

McGregor uses his 'beginners guide' to psychogeogaphy as a jumping-off point for an extended reflection on the present problematic state of Edinburgh where 'the urban agenda' has done what it is also done in London and Manchester: 'fallen foul of ... rapacious over-development ... development that values such ineffable values as charm and character only in as far as they can be quantified.'

Interesting to compare and contrast the Lettrist Ivan Chtcheglov's 'playful' Formulary for a new Urbanism where his dream city is divided into various arrondissemements named as The Happy Quarter, The Useful Quarter, The Sinister Quarter, and so on, with a central Edinburgh which is suffering 'from an ailment just as corrosive to the imagination as the flux marking its outer limits':
As one approaches the heritage core of the city one passes through an event horizon beyond which the city is not so much lived-in as curated. The carapaces of heritage buildings now play host to an industry whose function is to celebrate a stereotyped version of the past, such that the city becomes a simulacra of its original self; a museum to false memory in which even the citizens become tourists.
McGregor identifies the stroller and the deriviste as being among those who can still contribute to a revolution in everyday life.
Scratch under the surface and we may discover a substrata of older narratives, of quietly resonant corners which hide away and hope to be forgotten. There, among the marginalia of city life, the abandoned warehouses and half-deserted streets may yet form the backdrop to certain revelatory moments, certain small epiphanies.



Iain Sinclair at Greenbelt

2009-09-03T09:36:02.291+01:00

It was good to welcome Iain and Anna Sinclair to Greenbelt. He seemed to enjoy himself onstage with me and then later in his own show in which the orbital traveller took the audience in an indoor ampitheatre at Cheltenham Racecourse on a few brief circuits of his epic M25 journey and held a line with the poet John Clare and the journey he made from the lunatic asylum, Fairmead House, High Beach, Epping Forest, to Clare's home in Helpston, near Peterborough.I've spent all of today so far transcribing my conversation with Iain (available as a cd or download here). I've got as far as the questions at the end and thanks Liam, The Manchester Zedder, for yours. And venue host Ian. I didn't get the name of the other contributor so if you're him, or know him, then for the record, please let me know.One highlight from a good hour last Sunday afternoon: Iain Sinclair on walking the everyday...John D:A phrase which you use [in London Orbital] to describe, I think when you are reflecting on the motorway experience, perhaps the experience of drivers, but I wonder if it's also a phrase which also be applied to walking, where you said, 'Through repetition, boredom becomes transcendence'. And Greenbelt folks know that in the last few years I've been talking about exploring the idea of the everyday and trying to break through the boredom and look for the transcendence within everyday life, and it just occurred to me to ask you the question about whether the act of walking just in our everyday environment - for you, where you live in Hackney perhaps - can help in some way or other to promote what the Situationists proposed as a revolution in everyday life: a different way of thinking about our environment and relating to it?Iain S:Yes, I think absolutely, on a very simplistic practical level, the thing I do every single morning is exactly the same walk through a cross-section of Hackney, the path passes through London Fields which has changed dramatically lately, it's become a sort of Portobello Road area, very upmarket, through areas behind Mare Street which are still impoverished, and burnt-out warehouses or travelling families who are living on petrol stations, into Victoria Park and back along a canal. This is like a forty-minute walk. But simply by doing exactly the same walk every day my radar bumping off things confirms my own identity, and if something's changed then I change with it. And also your whole body, all the molecules, are shaken up a little and doing that same walk every single day, quite briskly, really does clear my head, allows the night's dreams and things to settle, prepares you for the writing of the day, and so in a sense I do regard it as a kind of walking meditation, as a kind of reconnection with London in every sense. Practically it might be thought to be be boring because you're seeing the same thing every day but actually it is the everyday becoming transcendent in a very simple way.Iain Sinclair at Greenbelt pic by Elaine Duigenan from the Greenbelt Festival Official Pictures' Flickr photostream[...]



The racecourse and the Rising Sun

2009-08-27T08:01:38.948+01:00

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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



William Booth and his struggle with the powers

2009-08-22T21:52:55.846+01:00

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.



The last journey

2009-08-21T14:19:20.398+01:00

(image) Remember that we are but rust,
and to rust we shall return:
diced
cubed
broken
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.



0 Comments

2009-08-18T06:48:14.469+01:00

(image)

U2: Breathe



Stand up to Rock Stars

2009-08-17T17:09:36.718+01:00

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 sideI wasn’t gonna buy just anyone’s cockatooSo why would I invite a complete stranger into my homeWould youBreathe 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[...]



Go to Shaw Street

2009-08-14T06:55:13.225+01:00

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 BrowThe lock-up previously blogged about in July 2004[...]



Ground Control

2009-08-07T11:11:59.755+01:00

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 [...]



Any questions?

2009-08-04T14:41:53.156+01:00

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...

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Doing almost nothing

2009-08-04T12:50:28.922+01:00

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 showAnd more background, biography etc at www.richardlong.org[...]