Throats are described as being “bricky-dry” in Rudyard Kipling’s poem Gunga Din, one of the many poems shared at last Thursday’s Poetry with Friends at Whitley Bay Library. My throat was bricky-dry at the end of a session that overran because we had so much to say about our chosen topic, “Heroes.”  Bricky-dry too because of the emotions that rose then subsided over time. Proof, as if it was needed, that poetry stirs and calms us.


The room we use in Whitley Bay Library every fortnight for Poetry with Friends had been used earlier in the week for a John Hegley gig. I’d attended the sold-out event with a couple of the Poetry with Friends gang and was still buzzing from it at Thursday’s session.

I’ve loved John’s work for years. I even had a short correspondence with him in the 1980s when he fronted the band The Popticians. I became obsessed with their single Mobile Home and over 30 years on, still know all the words. Sad but true!

mobile home

The audience at John’s gig ranged in age from school kid to octogenarian. We all laughed and joined in his songs. I had a smile on my face from start to finish and the feel-good factor lasted for days. Ah! I’m sorry I missed his impromptu performance the following evening at a buskers’ evening in Whitley Bay. Rats!

I shared my thoughts on John at Thursday’s Poetry with Friends session and read out a couple of his poems. Joyce jumped in with a wonderful rendition of Gunga Din then we went on a journey from World War Battlefields with John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields onto to Bhopal, Ken Saro Wira’s Nigeria, and finally to the classrooms of our childhood.


Rowland’s poem written to commemorate 20 years since Ken Saro-Wira’s death was one of the moments when my throat went bricky-dry. The same thing happened when Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night was shared and when Gail played us Maya Angelou performing her signature poem And Still I Rise.

Throughout our session the hot water boiler made noises similar to birdsong. Was it whistling water or the ghost of a bird trapped inside? The soundtrack was perfect for Pat’s reading of Swallows by Cumbrian poet, Mary Robinson.


Our next session’s theme is “Go As You Please” chosen by James. Bring whatever poem takes your fancy but don’t forget to reserve your seat with Gail by emailing


Fenwick is a retail institution here in Newcastle. John James Fenwick of Richmond, North Yorkshire chose to open a shop on the city’s main shopping street in 1882, a whole nine years before opening one on London’s New Bond Street.

fenwick logo

The Newcastle branch means a lot to many Geordies who still like to crowd round its legendary Christmas window display.

Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about shopping in Newcastle back in the 1970s. Most of it was included in All Right Now! 1970s Newcastle edited by Anna Flowers and Vanessa Histon and is still available from Tyne Bridge Publishing in Newcastle:

Mam and I shopped in Binns and Farnons but spent most of our time in and around busy Northumberland Street. This noisy road had its own theme tune composed of bus engines and brakes, the blind accordion player’s tunes and Evening Chronicle newspaper sellers croaking and yelping like toads and wounded dogs.

My favourite shop was Fenwick but like most Geordies I called (and still call) it Fenwicks. I was too young in the Seventies to appreciate the French style of the building. It looks like a classy Parisian store but back then I was more interested in staring at the accordion player outside one of the entrances on Northumberland Street. What was his story, I wonder?

Christmas was my favourite time to visit Fenwicks when I’d coo at the famous window display and fizz with excitement in the toy department. I loved visiting the third floor and remember standing in front of the Sindy dolls wrinkling my nose like Tabitha from Bewitched and willing those toys back to my bedroom!


Trips to the loo in my favourite department store offered me insight into the adult world. Passing Johann’s Coffee Shop and the Majorca Café en route to the toilets upstairs, I’d catch glimpses of women through the partition walls chatting over coffee and cake. Would I arrange to meet friends or Mam here in the future?

Once inside the Ladies’ Powder Room, I tuned in to the female conversation around me. As I washed my hands I wondered if my adult life would have to be as complicated as the biographies broadcasting in stereo from toilet cubicles. I can still smell that cloying mix of tobacco and perfume in the air as women sorted out their hair, makeup and love lives in front of those big mirrors.

all right now

And there’s an exhibition at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum all about the famous Fenwick Christmas Window. Check it out

The theme of Tuesday night’s Poetry with Friends at The Mission in North Shields was “Fireworks and Other Celebrations.” I struggled to find poems to fit so took along Fleur Adcock’s superb For Heidi with Blue Hair. No one seemed to mind.


We ate soup and stotties then biscuits washed down with tea and coffee. We compared and contrasted our feelings about and experiences of Halloween and Bonfire Night.

Remember, remember, how could I forget it’s the fifth of November? As I type I can hear fireworks going off over North Tyneside. It’s “Bonna Neet” and the rain won’t dampen Geordie enthusiasm for fireworks.

Back to Tuesday night & I discovered that the name Odeon as in the chain of cinemas was marketed by the firm’s publicists as standing for “Oscar Deutsch Entertains the Nation.” This led to a discussion about classic films. We’re all cinema buffs at Poetry with Friends.

It was wonderful to hear so many self-penned poems plus lines from Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony. The words come from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I didn’t know that.


Poetry with Friends at The Mission returns on 17th November. I can’t remember what theme we decided on so you’ll have to ask Gail at Happy Planet

Before then we’ve got John Hegley performing at Whitley Bay Library this coming Monday 9th November. It’s sold out I think. I hope he recites one of my favourite poems ever:

Love poem by my dog
I saw you in the park
I wanted to be your friend
I tunnelled my snout
up your non-barking end


Not one but two book launches last Tuesday 27th October. That’s right, two book launches here in North East England. Who says there’s no culture up here?


I got invited to both and luckily for me they were held in two central Newcastle pubs fairly close to each other. Both authors are friends of mine so I was delighted to support them. Pity I had to leave one to go to the other.


First up was a celebration rather than the launch of Jennifer Wilson’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London published by Crooked Cat.  The book is available now as an ebook from Amazon, iTunes, Smashwords and more. Visit Jennifer’s blog for more details on how to buy the book

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London  is based on a poem Jennifer wrote for a competition, when she got thinking about how Anne Boleyn and Richard III would probably get on quite well, both having been killed by a Henry Tudor. She describes the finished poem as “terrible” but the concept was interesting.


Jennifer decided to expand on it for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2013, where you have to write 50,000 words in a month. Kindred Spirits: Tower of London (after some hefty editing) was the result, and was accepted by Crooked Cat Publishing in June this year.


I left Jen’s celebrations and hot footed it to The Strawberry, the pub opposite Newcastle United’s ground for the launch of Football Passion in Black and White by Angie Stanger-Leathes.

Angie is a life-long Toon supporter and her book reflects her passion as well as the love of devotion for NUFC shared by many others. The upstairs bar was filled with Toon army supporters, footballing legends like Bob Moncur, members of Lindisfarne and Angie’s family and friends.


Football Passion in Black and White is available from The Strawberry and also Angie’s website


“Anger is an Energy” sings John Lydon in PiL’s Rise. This 29 year old song still sounds great and he’s right, you know, it is an en-er-gee.

Anger was one of the emotions expressed at Tuesday night’s Poetry with Friends at The Mission. Our theme for the evening was “Emotions” and it brought out the home-grown verse from regulars Jackie, Alan, John, Rowland and me! Rowland, fresh from a talk on lyrics brought some Wagner lyrics too.


The conversation took us from love and anger to Portland Down, sadness, war and beyond. The biscuits helped, as they always do. Here’s the full list of poems (and lyrics) shared:

John Drinkwater Moonlit Apples

Jackie You took your DVD player !!!

Rainer Maria Rilke Autumn Day

John Facilis Descensus Averno

Wagner Isolde’s Aria

Alan Autumn

John Naughty at Forty

Elaine Waspish

William Stephenson The Age of 80

Rowland All that there was

Rowland In the heat of summer

Jackie Whose Home

John Shells

John The Scream

Albert Giraud Moon Drunk

John The photograph

e e cummings my sweet old etcetera

Willie Nelson Nothing I can do about it now


Our next Poetry with Friends at The Mission will be the “Big Spooky Bang” night on Tuesday November 3rd. Gail’s making soup and the theme is fireworks and other celebrations. If you want to book a place email


“Never work with children and animals” is the ol’ show business adage still used today. How about “never talk about politics and religion in the same Poetry with Friends”? If that was an unwritten rule then we broke it at the last Poetry with Friends at Whitley Bay Library on October 15th.

I think it was one of our newcomers who suggested the double-headed theme at the previous session. I seized on it and looked forward to the pre-session prep I’d be undertaking ahead of the session on the 15th.

I thoroughly enjoyed the prep and the session. There were only five of us plus absent Rowland sent in some lyrics  plus his own work which I read out.

I kicked off with Jerusalem as I felt it was both political and religious.


Here’s the full list:

William Blake Jerusalem

William Blake The Angel that Presided o’er  my Birth

Peter, Paul & Mary El Salvador

Paul Durcan The Bloomsday Murders, 16th June 1997

Richard McWilliam In the Land of the Free

Siegfried Sassoon Everyone Sang

From The Bible 1 Corinithians 13 v 4-8 Love is Patient

John Greenleaf Whittier Dear Lord & Father of Mankind

Rowland Austerity

Kris Kristofferson Don’t Let the Bastards (Get You Down)

William Blake Holy Thursday

Arthur Hugh Clough There is no God

The conversation was honest, insightful, open-minded and open-hearted. I discovered a new author, Tim Jackson who wrote Prosperity without Growth. Durcan’s poem (Bloomsday Murders) left me open-mouthed. I’d never heard it before. Astonishing. Amazing. A GREAT poem.


Next Poetry with Friends at Whitley Bay Library is Thursday 29th October at 11 am. The theme is Transport. Please email  if you’d like to attend.

Today is National Poetry Day so it’s the right day to report on Tuesday evening’s Poetry with Friends at The Mission in North Shields.

The theme was “Autumn” and naturally we kicked off with Keats’ Ode to that season then shared work by Larkin, Coleridge, Ted Hughes, Tennyson, T.S. Eliot, Roger McGough, David Essex, Patrick Kavanagh, Pablo Neruda and more.


Assembled friends chose to share some of their own work too. Thank you to Alan, Ken, Jackie, Rowland and John for letting us hear their response to the season of mists and mellow…oh you know which one I’m talking about!

As well as autumn we discussed tinnitis, shirts, Canada, bad sound engineers, weddings, school days, Shotley Bridge and getting drunk.

Quotes of the evening include: “You’ll either be a soldier or a gigolo”, “Let grief be a falling leaf at the dawning of the day” and “It’s dirty but it’s comprehensive.”

One of those quotes is a line from a poem/song, the other is the so-called advice from a teacher. And the third? The third is a description of an anthology of bawdy limericks I appear to have inherited from my poetic partner in crime, the Cagney to my Lacey if you will, the artist still known as Gail Curry.


Our next meeting is on Tuesday 20th October when the theme will be “Emotions.” I second that!


I visit London  three, four, sometimes five times a year. Most of my visits include a stay at the same central London hotel. It’s conveniently situated and the breakfasts are good.

Every time I visit I chuckle at the sight of an “old fashioned” telephone, designed to make International Calls. I guess it dates from the 1990s. The telephone is situated in the main reception area but doesn’t work. There’s a “Temporarily Out of Service” sign on it but I’ve never seen it work and I’ve been staying there for three years.


On arriving at the hotel last month the first thing I did was check to make sure the telephone wasn’t working. Thankfully it was still “Temporarily Out of Service.” Phew! What would I have done if I’d found it working or worse still, removed from the hotel for good?

We humans like things to stay the same but they never do. Life is constantly changing and so it is with Poetry with Friends, the poetry appreciation sessions with a difference I have the pleasure of running with artist Gail Curry on North Tyneside.


Our last Tuesday evening session on September 22nd was not the same because stalwart member, David wasn’t present. Some of us fretted about his welfare, all of us wondered where he was and if he was okay but the session did not grind to a halt. We accepted the slight change to the evening’s entertainment and got on with exploring the chosen theme: Humour.

edward lear

We enjoyed poems by a range of poets including Wendy Cope, Edward Lear, Charles Causley, Mike Harding and another PWF stalwart, Alan. We decided that our next session’s theme on Tuesday 6th October will be Autumn.

Poetry with Friends at Whitley Bay Library yesterday was also Slightly Different But Still Okay. Stalwarts Joyce and Geoff were missing but it was great meeting new members. And we had a jolly good topic to get our teeth into: Nature.


We shared poems by writers including Brian Patten, Robert Frost, John Clare, Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes and a poem by stalwart, Rowland based on his recent trip to Canada. Lucky man. Theme for the next PWF at Whitley Bay is Politics and Religion! Heh heh! See you on Thursday 15th October and let the sparks fly!

Life continues, the seasons change, blackberries are picked and made into crumble, compote and jam. And let’s not forget time heals so with any luck when I see David at The Mission on Tuesday his arm will be heaps better than what it looks like in the photo above. I couldn’t bear to look at it then hence closed eyes!


Free as a Bard, the popular poetry and music evening I co-organise with Peter Mortimer returns to Whitley Bay’s Jam Jar Cinema in just over a fortnight on Sunday 11th October.


Poets Pippa Little & Peter Mortimer (who?!) will perform alongside local musician J.D. O’Neill. In addition there will be a literary raffle, free fresh fruit and a bespoke floral sculpture on display.

PIPPA LITTLE lives in SE Northumberland. Her first full collection Overwintering came out in 2012 and she is currently working on a second. A chapbook of poems about Mexico Our Lady of Iguanas will be published by Black Light Engine Room in 2016. This autumn she takes up a Royal Literary Fund Fellowship at Newcastle University.

Pippa Little

PETER MORTIMER is the founder of IRON Press and Cloud Nine Theatre Company. He set up Free as a Bard some years ago with poet Josephine Scott. It is now run with writer Elaine Cusack at Whitley Bay’s Jam Jar Cinema. This is his first maybe last performance there. Mortimer’s poems, plays and travel books lie scattered in wide profusion and are mainly ignored, a state of affairs he shares with most writers.

pete and d

J.D. O’NEILL is among the most active  singer/songwriters in the region and can be seen and heard widely on the Buskers scene including running the Wednesday night  Buskers at Surf Cafe Tynemouth which is normally heaving. He likes to sing falsetto (occasionally) and drinks whisky (frequently).

J.D. ONeill

Tickets a fiver from

jam jar


On Saturday I found myself, as I often do, in London. Work takes me there several times a year and I’m always pleased to reconnect with the city I called home for 15 years. In fact, I prefer the place now I no longer live there.

When a business trip to London looms I spend time on my itinerary, trying to squeeze in catch ups with friends plus a trip to an exhibition or gig. I like to have a plan of action for my short visits.

This weekend’s plan was thrown out of the window by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership landslide. I wanted to experience history as it happened. Instead of an afternoon stroll by the Thames, I scampered off my train at Kings Cross and went to Parliament Square. I mingled with those who had marched in solidarity with refugees at lunchtime and were now resting and socialising. And  waiting to hear Jeremy speak.

Not everyone was waiting to hear JC speak but those that were clapped, cheered and shouted “Jez we can!” when he took to the stage.

As he did something happened to me that hasn’t happened for decades. I was lifted up by my Superman Significant Other who asked “Can you see him yet?!” “No! I can’t!” I wailed and was dropped back to earth with a thud.


Superman didn’t give up. He led me to the raised flower beds beside Gandhi’s statue. I scrambled up and from there just about saw a Corbyn-shaped speck on the stage. I still couldn’t hear him. I don’t think many could but that didn’t stop the whoops and cheers.


I looked around from my vantage point at Winston Chruchill’s statue facing away from me and to David Lloyd George’s looking straight at me and at the crowd.


To all those who think Corbyn’s dragging supporters back to the 1980s, think again. Corbyn’s young supporters are pulling him forward into the 21st century.  Saturday was not a left-leaning march of yore. For starters there were too many picnics and far too few cigarettes. The past is gone. The future is online and on the streets too. But there was no violence, just drum and bass music, whoops of delight when friends turned up and smiles on the faces of people of all ages. Is this Newer Labour?



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