Wednesday, August 30, 2006


So... my weekend began on Wednesday night in Northampton where Naomi cooked dinner for me and Emma. A very pleasant way to start a long weekend.

On Thursday morning, a number of us from hOME (Matt, Suzie, Pippa, Chris, Juliet, Jim) plus some hangers on in Muzz and John set off to the exotic site that is Cheltenham Racecourse for the Greenbelt Arts and Music festival. I've heard a lot about GB over the years, and Mark Pierson swears it is the best of them all, although he would say that...

Greenbelt at night. Stolen from Johnny Baker's flickr site.

In the five days I spent at GB I had an extraordinary time. The blend of community, the lovely blonde at the American Cookie Caravan, the teachings of John Bell from Iona, Dave Andrews, and Dave Tomlinson, the folk from Moot, the hedge inspections, the bizzare and thought provoking heresy of Ikon, the Organic Beer Tent, and the Tiny Tea Tent meant I was never short of mental or physical stimulation. The weekend also managed to include people from pretty much every circle of friends I've had over the past 15 years. There were the homies (or homos as some now call us), Muzz from Auckland, Wendy and Phil from Edinburgh, a chance meeting with Nay who now works with Muzz in Servants and with whom I spent my best summer of the nineties (number 5 in the link) in Roxburgh (strangely I got an email from Kirsty Evitt this weekend, whom I also haven't seen since about then either and was on the same expedition), as well as some other folk from Oxford.

For me the four defining moments of the festival were:
  • Dave Andrews discussion on being the change we want to see
  • Vic Theason on the myth of redemptive violence
  • Ikon's worship service (although anybody who was there will tell you that it was a piece of performance art rather than a service) and the challenge of defining belief
  • John Bell's definition of blessing
Dave Andrews was simply astonishing. He told three outrageous stories about individuals or very small groups of people can bring about change. The title of his talk is taken from a quote from Gandhi, and to Dave's line of thinking, it is simply not possible to change other people, the only person you can change is yourself. The three stories, one where a local church offered their church to the local Islamic community after their mosque was burnt down, one where a group of Indonesian Christians sought funding for advocating for the human rights of imprisoned fundamentalist muslims who had been persecuting the Christians, and one where an Australian attempted to do a citizen's arrest on his MP in response to Australia's complicity in the war on terror were retold over the weekend. As Dave said in response to the stories, it was not very Christian, but very Christ-like. More about Dave's plans can be found here. I'm still trying to work through the impact he had on me but usefully he's a very good friend of Muzz's so I'm sure I'll be seeing him again.

Vic Theason's talk on the myth of redemptive violence used the example of films to illustrate that by using violence as a source of redemption, we perpetuate the myth that it is the only solution. Listening to his talk and watching the clips was a bit like someone had removed the scales from in front of my eyes. When Joyeux Noel comes out on DVD next month I'll be getting a hold of it. And it made for an interesting perspective on the stunning V for Vendetta.

Ikon's performance on Sunday night (on at the same time as My Morning Jacket, damnit...) ran me close. It was useful service in that it challenged some of the things I hold, but came close to calling me a liar. As part of the performance we got a list of 50 things that one of them believed, then we had someone declare their atheism, before we each got given a piece of rice paper with I believe written on it. We were instructed to think of something we believed, then to give the paper to our neighbour, take theirs, and then eat it. We were not to tell our neighbour what we believed, nor we were to ask what they believed. It was tough enough for me to simply come up with something I absolutely believed, as paradoixical as it might sound, for me beliefs come and they go. Having battled through that, I then realised that 'I believe' was spelt I beLIEve. Yeah, thanks for that.

Lastly, I've been pondering the meaning of the word blessing all year. This was in response to my first visit to Mexico this year. I still don't know what the word means, although it was suggested over the weekend that the word derives from having a camel underneath you. Alternative answers on a postcard please. During John Bell's discussion on God Bless Adam and Steve, where he attempted to set aside any biblical justification for condemning homosexual relationships (something I would like to get to the bottom of more, as it were - insert your own innuendo here). He made the observation that blessing something doesn't add sacredness to it, rather it acknowledges the sacredness that already exists in that thing. The context here was whether or not the church should be a host for the blessing of same-sex relationships (something I'm comfortable with it doing, and something I'm sure that Ma and Pa would probably disagree with). I'm still unsure of my definition here but John's definition seemed a useful point to work from.

So all in all, a useful weekend. And you can be sure I'll be at GB next year.

And the fact that Wallingford's seconds got bowled out for 33 on Saturday doesn't bother me at all...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Societies Cross Section

I find this photo from the Guardian's guide to the 2006/2007 premiership season both fascinating and very funny. It provides an interesting example of the motto of the herd, it is so much safer in large numbers. I particularly like little Miss Prada and her Dave Grohl/Neil Young boyfriend in the front row, the air masturbating twins above to the right, the apparently airbrushed in and smiling evilly redhead above, and the very angry numpty to the left of Wayne. But my personal favourite is the bald man inspecting his mobile phone. 'Hi m8, im @ the bridge and that wanker rooney has been sent off. tosser'.

Click on the picture to get a better look.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In the City

(Hello, Gerry)

In October 2001 I visited NYC for the first time. The timing was deliberate, the circumstances were not. The fires were still burning and the smell in lower Manhattan was like nothing I've ever smelt before. To say it was disturbing is an understatement. Amongst my wanderings I, like everybody else, made (and I guess this is the right word) a pilgrimage to Ground Zero. I recall signing my name and the word 'peace' on a banner that was strung along some iron railings.

Nearly five years later I went back to NYC on my way out to Mexico. I had to stop somewhere and I thought why not NYC. Having a few hours to kill before I could check in to my hotel (the rather dingy Hotel 17 - don't stay there, despite what their propaganda tells you) I wandered down to Ground Zero again. I guess I went for a few reasons, curious to see how it had changed, and curious to see how I'd respond to it. Now it is a large hole, surrounded by hurricane fencing. There is a timeline of the events and then a plague listing all the names of the 'heroes' that died that day. I couldn't help but think that in most other countries I've been to, that the words 'innocent victims' would be on the plague, and that 'heroes' seemed an odd choice of word. I've now doubt that there were acts of unbridled heroism that day, but everyone a hero. And I guess I got to wondering what the hijackers would think if they could see just how much the world has changed as a consequence of their actions.

A bit further on is the following sign:
And the cynic in me instantly thought, this was the World TRADE centre, right? Wouldn't it be more approriate to... But actually, I agree with the sentiments of the sign, and it was useful to stand and contemplate the events of that day and the consequences without dodging hawkers.

A couple of days later, after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (there are some things in life doing more than once and walking across from Brooklyn to Manhattan is most certainly one of them) I found myself on Broadway looking at some iron railings and realised I was standing at the same place as I'd stood five years ago. Behind the iron railings is St. Pauls church, the oldest church in Manhattan (and in fact the oldest public building in Manhattan). It too had a timeline of events and what I came to appreciate was that is was literally across the road from the WTC. It remained untouched, despite two 420m high towers and a 170m tower falling down beside it. The trees between it and the towers were not so lucky. In the nine months following September 11 the church became a haven for, at first, emergency workers, and then afterwards, relief workers. There is a sense that the church is a shrine, but it also feels like a sanctuary. It a very moving place to visit, and the sense of a community serving its wider community is profound. Humanity serving humanity.

In a fit of clueless and inappropriate juxtaposition I went from St. Pauls to the Trump Tower. Humanity screwing over humanity.

A mother and son crossing to Manhattan

It might cost $20 to get into but MoMA is worth it. More Picasso's, Cezannes, Warhols, Matisse', Pollocks and van Gogh's than you can shake a paintbrush at. It makes me wonder if after he got well known if Pablo woke up some mornings and thought, 'I can't be bothered today, slapped a couple of triangles and a red splodge of paint and thought, yeah, that'll do'.

The advantage of MoMA over other galleries I've been to, such as the Louvre, is that there is not the crush. The comedy that is the march to see the Mona Lisa and the subseequent scrum to take its picture does not present itself in MoMA. Instead, I got to stand in front of van Gogh's Starry Night all by myself. I stood there for some time, not because I was moved by it, but simply because I could.

On Saturday night, Sasa and Maria took me round Greenwich village. They took me places I wouldn't have found on my own, including the non-capitalist bookshop and Chumley's Beer House, a place that was serving during prohibition and as a result has multiple exits and no signage.

Every now and again, the are power cuts in Auckland and people bemoan the fall of NZ into third world status. It happens in the first world too. For the whole time I was in NYC, and the days either side, large parts of Queens had no power.

A few days later, in Mexico, Andreas got me drunk again.

But remember that the city is a funny place
Something like a circus or a sewer
And just remember different people have peculiar tastes
and the glory of love, might see you through
-Lou Reed