Sunday, February 24, 2013

Laurence Soper revisited

As I've commented before, one of the things I like about a blog is the unexpected way some posts are more popular than others. The post with the most hits on my blog is the one on Dione, followed by the first post about the Circle, then the posts on Abbot Laurence Soper.
How this tickles me. This, kids, is what being a witch is all about. You do a google search on him, you get directed to this blog. This is a whole facet of blogging I hadn't anticipated. Not for any reasons of vanity, but because if you try to tell me he hasn't googled himself while on the run from the police, I won't believe you. When else does a witch get an opportunity to talk to the subject of her spell who is in the news? I would certainly never otherwise get an opportunity to speak directly to him (and at a relative advantage, he ain't gonna post a reply for fear it shows up his location). It also makes perfect sense magically, it allows the opportunity to get in his head & sow some seeds which will cause his downfall. This is not pleasant, of course, & reinforces the need for keeping ones entrances guarded, but it reinforces the psychic link with the subject of the spell. This is of inestimable help in working magic, but it means I now have a more or less permanent psychic link with a paedophile. Heigh ho, this is the life of a witch, we have to roll up our sleeves & go to these places because sometimes we're the only ones who can.
In case anyone thought I had forgotten that I'd adopted the former abbot of Ealing as one of my little projects, I hadn't. (Yes, Andy baby, that goes for you especially). I have tried & failed to post a more recent picture than the one I posted before. F*ck me, I'd read a scurrilous blog post that he was an alcoholic, but I don't think anyone can be in any doubt looking at the state of his face.
The first picture is a reading about his situation now: once again no point going off without having a map. What's happening for him now: 6 of Pentacles. I feel he is using the money he inherited from his parents (for a monk, what seems to be wrong with this picture? Either there's a lot very wrong with Ealing Abbey or Soper isn't bothered at all, or both) to maintain his cover. The deck is Morgan Greer, & I love that it is closer up than RWS so in this case it isn't necessarily beggars to whom he is giving money. He is definitely buying protection in some way, possibly with another paedophile ( and who the hell would trust a paedophile - oh, that's right, Ealing police would trust a paedophile to return to London for questioning), or possibly with people who he has manipulated into believing he is an innocent victim. The rumour on the internet that he is staying in a monastery remains untrue: monasteries are notorious for gossip & anyway it just doesn't happen that a monk can just turn up at another monastery & stay there just like that.
What he is thinking: Ace of Cups. I get a nasty feeling about this one. To me the cups suggest that he doesn't think what he has done is wrong. In this case he would be a very dangerous man, at very high risk of reoffending, because he himself has no problem with what he has done & no interest, understanding or concern for the effects of his actions on his victims. The psychiatric jargon for that is psychopathy. What I can do best to bring him to justice: 9 of Cups. This gave me problems at first because I assumed it meant expose his crimes, but they're not in the public domain in any great detail as far as I know, & anyway everyone knows he's a shit. So I got a second opinion from my Goddess mother & Goddess daughter (Corleone voice: you gotta come to the family first). There is the presence of great emotion, but it's also the concern of those who are protecting him. So the natural step is to deal with them. Nobody in their right mind trusts a paedophile & they'll dob him in sooner or later.
The second picture is confirmation cards I drew, which totally confirmed the above interpretation, & my Goddess mother even suggested a spell. On this occasion I'm not going to go into any great detail of what I've done. This is just something that feels right at the moment, because the game is now stepped up a few notches, so I'll speak to him directly.
Andrew/Laurence, whatever you're calling yourself, the game's up. Someone's pissed with you, & it's not little old me. I need you to understand that my magic will never kill you, because that would be too easy. You need to understand the reality of what you have done, by its impact coming back to hit you. For a clergyman, you obviously didn't feel your creed was real to you, or the God you professed, or the hurt you inflicted on others. I'm here to tell you that not everybody feels like that. What you perceive as everyone saying the right thing & all pretending together, is real to the majority of people. So what is now happening to you is designed to bring the reality home to you. You remember writing your little yellow book of Thoughts of Jesus Christ? Those may not have seemed real to you but you now have someone on your tail whose reality you will not be able to deny. Your security is even now falling apart & the prison bars are nearing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Spirit of place: Eastside

The new park in Birmingham opened last year & I hadn't seen it yet so decided to have a look this morning. I'm not sure what the previous name for this part of the city would be, probably Aston? But the best way to describe it that it is behind Aston University.
While Eastside is one of those places currently undergoing regeneration its roots are definitely in industry: it is the site of the original railway station of Birmingham. The area has now diversified into a more diverse nature: both Birmingham City & Aston Universities have a presence there (don't you love the way Birmingham's universities are named after its football teams?), student housing, new blocks of flats, the Think Tank, & of course the park.
I like the park, I like the plants they've picked: they're architectural enough to interest me & not banks of panseys. They only trouble was I saw my old manager there, so I was busy doing cutting looks. At least she'd dressed in a colour that actually suited her for a change.
In an attempt to grasp the actual spirit of Eastside I went for a mooch through the building site that constitutes most of the area. I don't think I've ever seen so many derelict pubs so close to each other (pics attached for those who like that sort of thing). It's funny how so often a pub is left when there is literally nothing surrounding it.
Literally a stone's throw from a bustling city park I found myself alone to all intents & purposes, which was when I encountered the unexpected spirit of that part of the city. It felt disjointed, somehow, all over the place, with no coherent single feeling to describe it. In places, such as the car park behind the station, it felt tired. In other places there were feelings of desperation & sorrow, such as around the old factory which is the last picture.
I have seen that factory from the train so many times, but not close up. It's pretend: the terracotta decoration is only at the front: this was for show only. The area didn't have the friendly feeling that Digbeth has, & so despite being so close & probably originally having a similar culture, it has attracted a passing crowd rather than the bohemian Digbeth set.
One thing was very strange: once away from the families I felt as if I was being followed, or rather watched on & off as if someone was walking in the same direction as me & periodically observing me without that being the intent of the person's journey. Not something I often feel!
At length I turned round & stretched out some feelers to contact the thing that I didn't see every time I turned round. It was a man, a poor old thing who didn't realise he didn't have to return to his old 'haunts'. He had this feeling of loneliness about him & didn't understand what was happening. He was pleased when I communicated to him that he was dead & could go now. Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Weird shit: St Valentine

To mark Valentine's Day (a scrummy romp to all you lovers out there), one of my occasional weird shit postings, this time on the subject of the relics of the Saint himself. Those in the stalls will already know that the relics Roman Catholics have are authenticated by the Church, to prove they're the real thing. You would think they'd keep a not of what they've agreed to so that the situation that's arisen with St Valentine doesn't keep occurring. There are at least three full bodies of St Valentine venerated by the - somewhat credulous - faithful.
In keeping with the Hedge theme of this blog there's one right here in Birmingham:
Cardinal Newman who brought the body of St Valentine back from Rome where he found it in a catacombe but had difficulties with customs. At Verona they wanted to open the box containing the relics and at the Custom House it was recorded as a "mummy". It appears they wanted to charge duty on it. It is now found in a shrine at the Birmingham Oratory. At least it is genuine.There are it seems two other "bodies" claiming the name of Valentine enshrined. One is in the Carmelite Church in Dublin sent as a gift from Pope Gregory 16th in 1835 while a trip to Glasgow and a visit to the Church of Blessed Duns Scotus you will discover Valentine No 3 this time the gift of a French family in 1868.
 The picture is of his altar in the Birmingham Oratory. This also accounts for the body in Glasgow. It can come as no surprise that families could give his bodies away, & surely customs officials must be used to him being carted through by priests. There is a contradictory story about the relics in Dublin, which is what makes me think more than one body has been authenticated, since it resembles the Newman story in having the ring of simple truth:
Saint Valentine was a priest in ancient Rome, executed in the third century for performing Christian marriages, and buried there. But in 1835 an Irish Carmelite priest, John Spratt, so impressed and charmed Pope Gregory XVI that he was allowed to take Saint Valentine's remains home as a gift for his home parish.
He seems to have a body in Athens as well:
After the martyrdom some Christians salvaged the body of the Saint and put a bit of his blood in a vile. The body of the martyr was moved and buried in the Catacombs of St. Priscilla, a burial place of most of the martyrs. Over the years somehow he was "forgotten" since almost every day there were buried in these catacombs new martyrs for several decades. The memory of Valentine's martyrdom however remained robust, particularly in the local Church of Rome. Officially the memory of St. Valentine was established in 496 by Pope St. Gelasius. Fifteen centuries pass and we arrive at 1815, at which time the divine intention was to "disturb" the eternal repose of the Saint. Then the relics were donated by the Pope to a gentle Italian priest (according to the custom of the time). After this the relics are "lost" again until 1907 where we find them in Mytilene in the Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady. It seems that after the death of the priest that a descendant of his had inherited the relics who had migrated to Mytilene, which was then a thriving community of West-European Catholic Christians. There they remained until 1990 when they were moved to Athens in the Church of Saints Francis and Clara's Italian community, where they are today.
He also has a skull in Madrid. Despite all this one of his heads appears never to have left Rome since the picture of a skull is his head in the church of Santa Maria in Cosmodin. On the other hand he seems to have been everywhere & been careless enough to leave parts of his skull in Chelmno in Poland.
The long & the short of this? It's got nothing to do with religion, it's a racket pandering to people's worries & loneliness.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Can't begin to think of a title for this

I can't believe anyone gave that pub that name! And it's on Powke Road. I may pop in for a shampoo & set later.

Overheard in a charity shop in Blackheath today:
'Can yow measure a shower curtin? Ah dow know how.'
'Ah dow know either.'
'Moyne's 200 by 200.'
[How can you manage not to know how to measure something when you know it needs to be square?]
'So that's 200 metres by 200 metres. I'll get the tape measure & see.'
That's some shower.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 25:For mine is the secret

For mine is the secret which opens upon the door of youth; and mine is the cup of the Wine of Life: and the Cauldron of Cerridwen; which is the Holy Grail of Immortality. I am the Gracious Goddess who gives the gift of Joy unto the heart of Man.

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Arte Magical: There is a Secret Door that I have made to establish the way to taste even on earth the elixir of immortality. Say “Let ecstasy be mine, and joy on earth even to me, To Me” For I am a gracious Goddess.

Crowley: Khabs Am Pekht: “There is a secret door that I shall make to establish thy way in all the quarters...”

Crowley: The Law of Liberty: Do not embrace mere Marian or Melusine; she is Nuit herself, specially concentrated and incarnated in a human form to give you infinite love, to bid you taste even on earth the Elixir of Immortality. “But ecstasy be mine and joy on earth; ever To me! To me!”(2)

Crowley: The Law of Liberty: For hear, how gracious is the Goddess: “I give unimaginable joys on earth...” (2)

Crowley: Liber AL vel Legis: There is a secret door that I shall make to establish thy way in all the quarters. (3.38)


In replacing the Crowley quote about the secret door with a reference to the cauldron of Ceridwen, a subtle change is made in the thealogy of the Charge. Doors imply passages to another place, an authentic and recurring motif in magic and witchcraft, that of travelling beyond the realms of everyday life to realms of magic and mystery. This motif is central to another tradition of witchcraft, that of the Hedgewitch, where the hedge has come to symbolise this boundary, which the witch both dwells at and crosses over in search of transformation and magic.
In the final version of the Charge it is plain where this door leads to: youth. It is also plain that for Gardner, youth and beauty in women equate to attributes of the Goddess, with his requirements that the High Priestess should step aside after a certain time for a younger model. It is tempting to see in this an indication that he was merely a dirty old man, but I feel that the significance of his emphasis on youth may lie deeper. At the time that Wicca was publicised, Gardner was already retired, already ill with breathing difficulties which necessitated spending time out of the country for much of the year. It would be natural to yearn for lost youth and health in these circumstances, even in the midst of initiating, in the final decade of his life, a new religious movement which has now become a worldwide phenomenon. The power to do the seemingly impossible remains in the hands of the High Priestess as representative of the Goddess, and Gardner may have felt that he had tapped into this Goddess power to achieve the seemingly impossible in the last years of his life:
‘They tell me that in the old days they often used to choose the prettiest young girl suitable to represent the goddess at large meetings. She was known as the Maiden. She was made a sort of acting high priestess and treated with the greatest honour and would often act as sort of hostess to distinguished visitors (i.e. the Devil if he turned up), but the real power remained in the hands of the true priestess, who usually worked all the magic. Often the Maiden was the high priestess’s daughter and would take the place of her mother in time and there was sometimes some mystification over this; seeing the resemblance at a distance ignorant visitors believed that the high priestess became young again at the meetings.’  (Gerald Gardner: Witchcraft Today. Arrow Books, London, 1975, p. 136.)
This passage is moreover not only about the gates of youth, but locates the magic of transformation in the cauldron. In The Meaning of Witchcraft, Gardner equates the cauldron as used at the Midwinter Solstice ritual to the gates of the Great Mother, equated by Neumann to the stones of trilithons,  further emphasising the liminal aspects of the cauldron (Gerald Gardner: The Meaning of Witchcraft. Weiser Books, York Beach, 2004.).
The esoteric significance of the cauldron is summarised by Valiente  (Doreen Valiente: An ABC of Witchcraft Past and Present. Robert Hale, London, 1973.) using a quotation from a work on the Rosicrucians: ‘We claim the caldron of the witches as, in the original, the vase or urn of the fiery transmigration, in which all the things of the world change.’ ( Hargrave Jennings: The Rosicrucians: Their Rites and Mysteries (Second Edition). Chatto and Windus, London, 1879, p. 97.) In replacing this motif with the cauldron of Ceridwen the locus of magical transformation is moved, from outside the doorways found in liminal places, to within the witch herself, since it is the Goddess within the witch who is herself saying that she is the cauldron. Wicca inherits much from the dogmatic magical traditions of the grimoire tradition, the Golden Dawn, and Crowley, but there is an undercurrent, found in this passage, which places magical ability within the witch herself and, taken to its natural extreme, would mean independence from inherited magical traditions or teaching from other sorcerers. While Wicca is usually placed in the dogmatic and traditional end of the spectrum of magical systems, this undercurrent indicates a thread within Wicca which is closer to the nondogmatism of Spare, where the locus of the magic is entirely within the magician (  For more on these traditions and distinctions, see John Wisdom Gonce III: The Evolution of Sorcery: A Brief History of Modern Magick. In Daniel Harms and John Wisdom Gonce III: The Necronomicon Files (Revised and Expanded Edition). Weiser Books, Boston MA, 2003, pp. 71-84.).  There are occasions where this undercurrent becomes explicit, such as Gardner’s statement in The Meaning of Witchcraft that the locus of magical power is in the subconscious mind, and that the witch must use the means which are right for her (Gardner, op. cit.).
The ritual context in which this shift is made, counters, in Wicca, any extreme sense of individualism, and balances it with a hierarchical system. How does this happen? Because the person speaking these words is the Goddess present in her priestess, but the priestess is also High Priestess of a coven. It is therefore the coven organisation of Wicca which places a control on this. The individual witch does have the locus of magical power placed inside her, but the hierarchical organisation of the coven should hold her back from most of the more dangerous or outrageous actions undertaken by those who have let a sense of magical power go to their heads.
Gardner himself hints at another explanation for the placement of the magical locus both inside and outside the witch. The theme of placing the locus of magical power within the witch is underlined and reinforced by the theme of the presence of the Goddess within the witch, which recurs throughout the Charge. In Witchcraft Today,  in talking about the Holy Grail, Gardner likens it to the cauldron of Celtic mythology, in awakening the dead, and creating fertility (Gardner, op. cit.). Ultimately he sees the cauldron as being the Goddess, who, if she is present in the witch, and the cauldron is the source of the magic, the locus of the magical power is inside the witch, because of the presence of the Goddess. It is also outside, because the Goddess is everything.
In the next section of the Charge it is made explicit what this magical power from the Goddess gives to the witch.

Commentary on the Charge of the Goddess 24: Keep pure your highest ideals

Keep pure your highest Ideals, strive ever towards it [sic]. Let naught stop you or turn you aside.

Sources and Influences

Ye Bok of Ye Art Magickal: Keep pure your highest ideal: strive ever toward it. Let naught stop you or turn you aside.

Crowley: Law of Liberty: Keep pure your highest ideal; strive ever toward it without allowing aught to stop you or turn you aside, even as a star sweeps upon its incalculable and infinite course of glory, and all is Love. (2)


This passage is one of the few in the final version of the Charge which remains as an unedited direct quotation from Crowley, albeit missing the reference to love. Is anyone really as single-minded as this? Of course it is a reference to Crowley’s True Will, and an exhortation to concentration on that alone.
The search for the True Will is relatively unemphasised in Wicca, in comparison to Thelema, and neither is an ultimate goal in temporal or soteriological (salvation) terms generally proffered as an aim, which raises the question of what the point is of Wicca. I feel that this is an aspect which has not been adequately developed in Wiccan thealogy, and truly it is difficult to answer the question: ‘What is the point, our highest ideal which we must ever strive towards, of being a witch?’
Of course the point is not given. It would not be in the nature of Wicca to lay down a final reason, since Wicca embraces a vision of time which is ever unrolling, and ever repeating. Given that most witches hope that they will be reincarnated in some form, the lack of a final aim for Wicca allows Wiccans to embrace both the aims of this life and aims we may have to work towards in future lives. It is not possible to see beyond our present life, to know what lies for us in the future, because there we would be as Gods.
And that must be the final answer: the purpose of pursuing our highest ideal must be that we will become as Gods. True, ‘there is nothing in me that is not of the Gods’, but the point of successive reincarnations must be to attain ever closer to Godhead.
But there is something wrong with this idea: it introduces an element into Wiccan cosmology of striving for some future ‘reward’, which is totally alien to Wicca. To modify the metaphor somewhat: the reason for successive incarnations can be seen as lying within each individual incarnation. This changes the focus from some future nirvana, to the concentration on the present, which makes it all-important.
Imagine, for the moment, that you do not think you are going to be reincarnated, and that you know you will die in the near future. The effect that this would have on your actions is exactly the effect I mean, of not focussing on some abstract distant future. To maintain your highest ideal in a context of imminent death, with no assurance of opportunities to have another go, would impart so great an importance to your actions, that for the time left, you really would focus on your highest ideal and all else would be turning aside.
Perhaps this explains Crowley’s image of a star on its incalculable course: it literally cannot be swept aside, there is only one place for it to go, and its journey is the whole meaning of its existence.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Queering the pitch: the Kray twins

High time we had a bare chest again! In this instance it's two for the price of one. And these, children, are definitely the sort of men your mother warned you about.
I have recently developed an interest in the Krays, for reasons that will become apparent as this post progresses. Of course I sort of knew about them, but I watched a documentary (We Ruled London, independent Studios UK Ltd, 2009) which both illuminated their world & infuriated me in equal measure. Using archive footage, it brings the underworld of London's east end in a previous age to life. It's a different world from now: the Krays had no involvement in drug dealing at all, that came along after they were imprisoned: their racket was protection. It's also very apparent what a pair of thoroughly nasty pieces of work they were. So unsuitable that I thought Ronnie was quite hot in footage of a TV interview they did. Shifty doesn't begin to describe them, although that Cockney accent is always sexy.
And off their heads - I can't think of a better way to describe it. I don't merely mean Reggie's long-standing mental illness (I believe when he died in Broadmoor his diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia), but a more overarching sense of not being right. The film uses a wild understatement in describing Reggie's shooting a family friend in the foot for some imagined slight as 'unstable'. It was evident that they were on some roller coaster of being unaffected by the influence of their actions on other people, that at its most extreme must move over into personality disorder.
And they ruled the East End with a rod of iron. *Everyone* was simply too frightened of them to get on the wrong side of them, & to get witnesses for their eventual prosecution the Crown had to make deals with so many people who would otherwise be facing criminal sentences as well.
But the film made one omission which is very telling. It is a matter which I have known about in a general way for yonks, so it must have been in the public domain. Yes girls, murder & protection rackets were not enough: they were another sort of man your mother warned you about. They were Queer. And do you know, that film makes not one mention of it. Reggie had a lifelong gay orientation: numerous partners & even procured lads for Lord Boothby. This was well known in the Firm: let's face it, you wouldn't want to call one of the Krays a poof, & if anyone ever raised an objection he told them didn't know what they were missing. Ronnie was mainly hetero, but did have flings with men as well, on rare occasions admitting it to family members only. This is based on what they told one of their old neighbours, who grew up with them & has written a biography of them. I find it simply astounding that in 2009 (I'm actually watching the 1990 film as I write this & Reg has just kissed a man) a documentary can pull no punches about organised crime and murder, but can't bring itself to mention homosexuality!
Outrage at that aside, I do have a twisted reason of my own for bringing the Krays up. The second picture shows two underworld crime bosses strolling around their manor. Not what you'd expect from a homosexual & a bisexual twin. They were Queers, duckie, but not confined to the worlds of hairdressing & interior design. Of course I'm not for an instant condoning their crimes, but it's so good to hear of Queer men who break the stereotypes.

Feeling arty

It has been tipping it down so far today so I decided against continuing the Rea walkway in the rain. Instead I decided to see the exhibition of government-owned art at the art gallery. I got to town far too early so took a walk to the peace gardens (in the rain, I know, this decision made sense at the time). In fact something happened: a Polish man came up to me & said, 'Nice day for a walk, eh?' I can't begin to guess his motives, whether to take the p*ss or trying to be English & getting it wrong, I just know I was unable to reply because of the filthy thoughts that immediately crossed my mind. He walked off with no further indication that he was making a pass at me, but the universe had given me a message that I was welcome. When the cat dies I'm thinking of moving to a flat in the city centre, & was already thinking I fancied that area.
I walked along the canal bank into the Mailbox, & bought series 3 of Dear Ladies in the BBC shop. Interesting predicament for this evening: watch Hinge & Bracket or The Krays?
Then to the record exchange on Smallbrook Queensway. They sell books for 50p each & I bought 4, including a book of quotes from Mae West, & Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna. It's true that the teacher comes along when the pupil is ready, I'm just not admitting to which of those two that refers.
Lunch at the wonderful Caribana (32 Holloway Circus, 0121 448 7608, I know this may not appear to refer in any way to witchcraft but it's my blog & I'll write about what I damn well please, because I'm a witch).
The finally to the exhibition. It featured a surprising number of pieces that I just liked, not all stuffy portraits, including a Tracey Emin. My favourite was Blue Tangle by Kenneth Martin. This is the first time I have seen pictures by Lowry in the flesh. Even though he died 40 years ago his pictures still seem remarkably modern. I'm afraid that I was disappointed by the five huge John Pipers in one sense. I was delighted by their flouncy Festival of Britain aesthetic, loved the colours, loved the impressionistic way he had painted impressions of buildings, but there was too much of them for the space they were in, & I feel they couldn't give of their best. Instead the picture attached to this post is another John Piper, the mural he did for BBC Centre in London, which will be closing this year.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Rea Valley Walkway (1) & On Avoiding the Village Thing

This morning I started my other long-felt ambition for this holiday & started walking the Rea Valley Walkway. If you live in Birmingham & don't know where it it, don't waste your time looking on the website. There is a walking Birmingham map which shows the route rather unclearly. But the easiest was to get on it is to find one of its sign posts: it is very well signposted when you find it.
I got onto it from the 11 route between Cotteridge & Hazelwell (you can see signs for it from the bus on both sides of the road). Doing the small bit I did today, you could also get on it at Kings Norton: it goes through both the park & the playing fields.
I was pleased to find that I'd actually already 'done' part of this morning's route, which goes along the canal bank. The picture is of a gorgeous house actually on the canal: nightmare to live in, & that stretch of the canal is prodigiously graffitied so it must be vulnerable to all sorts of naughtiness going on.
The walkway leaves the canal bank here & goes up towards Kings Norton Green, famous for its ancient buildings. I have never been to King's Norton before, & frankly wasn't impressed. Here's the thing: it seems to me that publicly-funded amenities differ greatly in different parts of the city. Strange that. The classic example would be the gorgeous listed Moseley Road baths, which have been out of commission for some years, because they're in such a bad state. Who let them get in such a state: that'll be Birmingham City Council. There are now rumours that the council is not planning on re-opening them at all. That would be fair enough in a cash-strapped environment *if* they hadn't meanwhile demolished an operational baths in Harborne, & built a completely new one. Similarly I went into the library at King's Norton, which while not lavish, was certainly well appointed in contrast to some of the libraries in poorer parts of the city.
One thing Kings Norton & Harborne have in common (don't even get me started on Moseley) in addition to a wealthy populace, is that they call themselves villages. Now you may say, & you would be right, that all cities have grown up from the merging of villages. London is a comparable example, where the different villages have their own atmosphere. However in big brash Birmingham, calling a suburb of the city a 'village' reeks of affectation. The supporters of the village appellation would probably come up with some guff about community. The fact is that in, say, Balsall Heath, people form genuine coherent community/ies. This is how people survive against the shit that life throws at them. That is real community, which is not made by the privileged making artificial community based on road signs, shopping at Waitrose, & farmer's markets. In a bin in Kings Norton I saw an empty Mars drink bottle & the parish magazine: obviously a wild night out in Kings Norton. I got the bus to Cotteridge & thence home, but the next leg of the walk will start in Kings Norton, now I know how to get there on the bus, & go outwards.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Spirit of place: West Bromwich

Chelsea Girl, there's a blast from the past
Following a rather drunken conversation in the pub last night slagging the place off, to West Brom today, chiefly to go to the Nike factory shop.
I like West Brom, myself. And not just because it's full of gorgeous bits of rough in tracksuits with status dogs! It's one of those places that has alternated between extremes of poverty & the occasional flash of paternalistic do-gooding. At one end of the high street are the Town Hall & Library, both magnificent examples of early 20th century municipal architecture. The Town Hall is looking rather run down, although I've never been inside. The library has been done out inside & now the outside is covered in scaffolding. It is evident that while things have been initiated there, there has never been the money to maintain things. Sandwell is something like the sixth poorest area in the country.
The flip side of this coin is that there is a great diversity including LGBTQ presence in West Brom. I remember once being on a bus & two lesbians got on to go home after their civil partnership ceremony. Of course this also includes the various immigrant groups that have come over the years, & means it doesn't feel as insular as places which are predominantly or only white working class.
The pictures are of the Queen's Square shopping centre, opened in 1971. Now that West Brom is getting a face lift I hope they leave it alone, because it is relatively untouched. Looking at it today it must have been expensive in its day, lots of internal tilework that would have been labour-intensive. And it has been left alone since then, thus constituting a relic of the shopping centres I remember from my 70s childhood. Others have been altered beyond recognition, but this remains. It was designed by the - now - controversial architect John Madin, who was single-handedly responsible for most of the architectural disasters in the midlands over 30 years, including the doomed Birmingham Central Library. Queen's Square is one of his better efforts.
Nike shop & Tesco later, I wend my way home to cook a curry. I've also risked some press-ups after being on hold due to what turns out to be tennis elbow. No rude remarks now, I've heard enough recently, especially as my poor old knees have gone as well!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


I'm posting this tonight because I know I'll be feeling more sensible in the morning. To the moot, I'm the one with the banana. I stuck to gin this time & we had the most outrageous time. Before Google what did we do in the pub? Oh yes, I remember, we smoked. I am amazed at what a common fetish sex with nuns is, whereas googling 'monk sex' got an article about a Buddhist monk who collapsed in flagrante with a dog. I'm not making any of this up.

Spirit of place: Kidderminster

It is high time I gave my highly idiosyncratic impression of Kidderminster, a town I have somewhat mixed feelings about. It is historically best known for its connection to the carpet industry, & perhaps today best known as one end of the Severn Valley Railway. These two facts are not a great deal of use to a witch seeking to uncover the underlying *life* *soul*, whatever phrase you want to use, that comes out in the external manifestation of a place.
My mixed feelings are these: on the one hand, like everywhere with a Dudley postcode, it is indisputably a dump. Anyone who wants to dispute this had better not get me started on the ranks of dole scum & hatchet-faced 4o-year-old grandmothers that filled its streets today. On the other hand, I like Kidderminster itself, because it does seem to have a very individualistic spirit. The charity shops always have some really offbeat stuff, that indicate it's not a place that makes you IQ plummet on arriving there, but rather provides an enclave for people of weird interests.
I shall therefore comment on my pictures in the order that hopefully, blogger willing, they appear in this post. The first picture is what you unfortunately see when you go from the railway station to the town centre: how that underpass could have been seen as a good idea even when built is beyond me. Drear, drear, drear.
Rather than sensibly filling it in & making pedestrian crossings above ground, the powers that be have tried to prettify it with public art. The original tiles have been painted over in a publicly-funded display of nice inoffensive street art, which has since been graffitied over again by proper street art.
The disastrous street planning of modern times is mitigated somewhat by one of the first things you see on coming out of the underpass being a sort of dreamy clock tower thing. My blackberry didn't want to photograph it too well in the light but it has gorgeous gargoyles all over it. It's as camp as tits & so overdone that I would guess it has to be Victorian.
There's more stencil graffiti on the former magistrate's court, indicating that people of anarchistic beliefs frequent Kidderminster.
I did actually make a friend while there: I had chicken tikka kebab meat in a bun for lunch, & the lady in the final picture decided she'd walk along the wall & try to seduce me into giving her some. At least I imagine she's a lady, because of her patterning, she wouldn't actually show me her bum, but I recognise the sort of woman my mother used to warn me about when I see one. In fact she lived up to the warning: when it became apparent that the kebab meat had all gone, she went off to tart herself to someone else. Floozy.
So there you have it: my distinctly odd take on Kidderminster. Not many guide books would have the gall to sum it up as: graffiti, underpass, clock tower, & cat! Of course the reader will understand that I'm interpreting the cat (her name is probably Jezebel) as personifying the Spirit of Kidderminster...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

City spirit in Terry Pratchett

I wrote the previous post in the wonderful Cafe Soya in the Arcadian centre. It was still early when I came out so I had a wander in the dark city of a Sunday evening before getting the bus home. I went through the market & down Allison Street towards Fazeley Street. In Allison Street I suddenly felt very comfortable. I felt reassured that this was my patch, & while there are bad things going on in the dark, I needn't worry because I'm it.
It reminded me of the witch in one of Terry Pratchett's books who doesn't like the country, so some quotes from her are appended below.
I walked on to Fazeley Street. Digbeth is quite different on a Sunday evening. I was surprised at the relative silence, while there were lots of cars parked in the street. Some of them obviously belonged to Asians who were as obviously having family celebrations. Snooker clubs were lit up to varying degrees, & looking dodgy to varying degrees. The cars outside tended to look like drug dealers' cars: round here they don't go for huge limousines but small nippy souped-up numbers.
'I didn't know you *could* be a witch in the city,' said Tiffany. 'I was told once that you need good rock to grow witches, & everyone says the city is built on slime & mud.'
'And masonry,' said Mrs Proust gleefully. 'Granite & marble, miscellaneous sedimentary deposits, my dear Tiffany. Rocks that once leaped & flowed when the world was born in fire. And do you see the cobbles on the streets? Surely every single one of them, at some time, has had blood on it. Everywhere you look, stone & rock. Everywhere you can't see, stone & rock! Can you imagine what it feels like to reach down with your bones & feel the living stones? And what did we make from the stone? Palaces, & castles & mausoleums & gravestones, & fine houses, & city walls, oh my! Not just in this city either. The city is built on itself, all the cities that came before. Can you imagine how it feels to lie down on an ancient flagstone & feel the power of the rock buoying you up against the tug of the world? And it's mine to use, all of it, every stone of it, & that's where witchcraft begins. The stones have life, & *I'm* part of it.'
(Terry Pratchett: I Shall Wear Midnight. Doubleday, London, 2010, pp. 122 - 123.)
Mrs Proust raised her eyebrows. 'My dear, I treasure my ignorance of stoats & weasels. Sounds like countryside stuff to me. Can't abide countryside. Too much green makes me feel bilious,' she said, giving Tiffany's dress a shuddering glance.
(Ibid, p. 127.)
'I've got to go into,' said Mrs Proust, looking around the crowded shelves in case there was another working broomstick there. Her son stared. 'Are you sure, Mother? You've always said it's bad for your health.'
(Ibid, p. 282.)
'...topiary is not actually illegal, although I rather suspect that one or two folk are going to be the first up against the hedge when the revolution comes. Hedge witches - that's what we call country witches in the city.'
(Ibid, p. 300.)

Spirit of place: Bournbrook

I'm on annual leave & this morning did one of the explores I've been considering for some time. Since a rearrangement of roads & bus services near my work in the last few years I have been walking to a bus stop past a sign that says 'Bournbrook Walkway'. The name refers both to a brook that is a tributary of the River Rea, the major river around which the early development of Birmingham grew, & which is shown in the second picture in Fazeley Street in Digbeth, and also to a residential area of the city.
I didn't realise that the walkway goes on forever way into Woodgate Valley, following the route of the brook. Hoping for a hag stone I managed to get to the bed of the brook in one place, which is shown in the first picture. It meant getting my best trackie bottoms fantabulously muddy: it seems whenever I dress for mess it never comes my way.
The bed of the brook is definitely rocky: and the brook flows a meandering way to its destination. The river Rea is notorious for bursting its banks after heavy rain, & these waterways on which Birmingham is built seem to explain the city's spirit. People wonder why nothing can ever be left alone in Birmingham or why it is continually being rebuilt, but that's the spirit of the city. The area called Bournbrook is by the university & thus represents continually shifting student life. This shifting& changing doesn't have to be uncomfortable once you see this for what it is: the expression on our plane of the underlying restlessness of the city's spirit.
I have only just realised that this and the other explore I've had in mind for a long time, a walk along the route of the River Rea, are so linked I can't believe I didn't notice before! Perhaps having Strength as my year card is drawing me in an unaccustomedly watery direction...