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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
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This site remains open as I shall continue archiving texts of my talks etc here, and I will no doubt put it to various other uses as time goes on, so I hope you keep checking in here. I'll be upgrading the blog archive links pages soon, to make them more user-friendly. Meanwhile the best way to find what you think may be here is by using the search box on the left. Thanks for visiting!
Friday, April 30, 2010The good man Morton and the scoundrel Cole Typepad pages. Read the first one here: The good man Morton and the scoundrel Cole, a review of two very good books indeed.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010John Davies Talking Walking Talking Walking website.
Saturday, January 16, 2010On throwing up in the gutter and other great moments with Jim 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.
Others who contributed on the day - please feel free to add in your writing in the comments box or email me (see sidebar for email address)
Sunday, January 10, 2010On running away from God On running away from God.
Thursday, December 17, 2009'Mythogeography: A Guide to Walking Sideways' by Phil Smith 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.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.
Friday, November 20, 2009Jim Hart - Rest in Passion
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 a modest body of words and a small contribution to a legacy which I hope will grow as others too go to print with their reflections on the hard but faithful man's good influence.
Pic: from my blog of June 24, 2006, the day he took me on his 'Alternative M6' journey, Jim picnicing on the farm road which runs between carriageways above Shap
Monday, November 09, 2009Remembrance: Coming Home Remembrance: Coming Home
Thursday, October 15, 2009On the Tapscott trail with Iain Sinclair
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
Tuesday, October 13, 2009Save Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield 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.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.
Monday, October 12, 2009First steps with the new family
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.
Friday, September 25, 2009Should 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'
Monday, September 21, 2009Stag Night Karting
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
Tuesday, September 15, 2009The Red Horse at Cheltenham 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.
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.
Monday, September 14, 2009Luminescence at the pit head 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