I love radio and thoroughly enjoyed contributing to this programme broadcast on local radio station BBC Radio Newcastle

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03ghspt#play

I won’t say anything else. Listen and enjoy

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Man, I  get so much out of co-running Poetry with Friends. Thursday’s session in Whitley Bay library was meant to be about Love and its opposite but we went all over the place with Ogden Nash, Roger McGough, John Cooper Clarke, Thomas Hardy, Christina Rossetti, John Masefield, Barrie Horn, Stevie Smith, Seamus Heaney & Dylan Thomas.

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We also talked about Hawaiian drug dealing, being mistaken for a terrorist and a murderer, cycling, running, the joys of retirement, New Year resolutions and homelessness.

Gail and I are asking our Happy Planet gang to send us their top five poems of all time so we can compile a list. I worked out mine during Thursday’s session. Just sent it to Gail now. I’m happy with my choices.

Two weeks tonight Death at Dawn will take to the stage at Wallsend’s Memorial Hall. I’m involved with the promotion of this award-winning play’s revival. If you want to know more about the play and the man who inspired it, William Hunter who died 100 years ago then visit http://cloudninetheatre.co.uk/next.htm

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Thanks to writer and coastal chum Jennifer C Wilson for this wonderful write up

Tales from the notepad...

Last night, I attended a haiku workshop run by my good friend and fellow Whitley Bay writer Elaine Cusack, through Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC. As I have repeatedly said in this blog, I love workshops, and although I’ve attended a haiku workshop before, I’ve never quite got the hang of them, and was looking forward to learning something new, and, hopefully, generating some new pieces.

WP_20160202_18_53_14_Pro[1] Our Happy Planet workshop space – lots of inspiration!

We started by reading some examples, and I particularly liked this one, by Caroline Gourlay:

Writing at my desk,

I look out across the sea…

words slip their moorings.

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And then onto our own, thinking about nature, travel, seasons and the senses. I managed to get thirteen drafted in total, and found it completely addictive. I find it a very similar concept to the ‘small stones’ idea, capturing a single thought or moment…

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Poetry with Friends is a poetry appreciation group with a difference. In fact it comprises of two groups. There’s our  Thursday morning one which meets in Whitley Bay library every fortnight and then there’s the Tuesday evening one in Boo Boo and Ted.   I co-organise these groups but they power along with the energy of our regular attendees. Some of them are members of both groups.

poets at WB

We share poems by published authors as well as our own. So far this year we’ve shared work by Adrian Mitchell, Ted Hughes, Joyce Grenfell, Brian Patten, Elizabeth Jennings, Tom Kelly, Mary Oliver, Wilfred Owen, W.H Davies, Moniza Alvi, Noreen Rees, Thomas Hardy, Robbie Burns plus work by our gang: Rowland, Gail, Alan, Jackie, John and James.

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We’ve decided to compile our very own Top Ten Poems. Well, inevitably it will be Top 50 or Top 100 with all members submitting up to five favourite poems to Gail by the beginning of March. Where will I start? Will my poetic cornerstones feature: Plath, Larkin, cummings and Stevie Smith? Hmmm.

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For more info on Poetry with Friends and creative workshops run by Gail and I visit http://www.happyplanetcreativearts.org.uk/

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I’m running two writing workshops in Whitley Bay in the nearish future. They’re both in the evening at Boo Boo and Ted, 264 Whitley Road in Whitley Bay town centre.

The first one’s on Tuesday 2nd February from 7pm to 9pm. It’s a Haiku workshop. The enduring appeal of Haiku rests on the capturing the essence of a moment (usually involving nature) in a three line poem. Come and learn about Haiku and have a go at writing a few of your own.

The second one’s called Writing the Unwritten and takes place on Thurs 3rd March from 7pm to 9pm. Every picture tells a story but do we ever get to learn what happens to all the characters we see in photographs? Are all loose ends tied up or left hanging? Come and have a go at writing the unwritten stories hinted at in photos and postcards.

For more info and to book pop into Boo Boo and Ted or visit Happy Planet’s website http://www.happyplanetcreativearts.org.uk/p/blog-page_28.html

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The New Hartley Pit Disaster of 1862 claimed the lives of over 200 men and boys. It decimated a small but tight-knit Northumbrian community and even tugged at the heart strings of the recently widowed Queen Victoria.

Last Thursday 16th January  marked the 154th anniversary of the start of a week-long attempt to save the doomed souls entombed below frozen ground inside Hartley’s Hester pit.

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In 2012 I contributed a poem, History Lesson, to a locally produced book, Still the Sea Rolls On, commemorating the lives lost and affected by the tragedy. I’ve performed History Lesson in Newcastle’s Mining Institute, in Woodhorn church and beside the Hartley Disaster Memorial in Earsdon’s churchyard.

chris Harrison

My work for the project brought me into contact with Chris Harrison, a London-based musician and the great-great grandson of pitman poet Joseph Skipsey. Joe is best known for his poem The Hartley Calamity which he performed at benefit gigs to raise money for and awareness of the plight of approximately 400 men, women and children bereaved and left destitute by the tragedy of January 1862.

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Chris has set his ancestor’s words to music and it was a delight to see and hear Chris perform last night in New Hartley’s Community Hall. Chris was part of the 13th Annual Memorial Concert for the Pit Disaster organised by local singing group Beeswing.  Chris felt like he was bringing Joe’s Hartley poem “home.” I think we all felt touched by that.

Headliners in the second half of the gig were Teesside’s sensational, The Wilsons. If you haven’t heard this loud, proud close harmony singing group then I’m surprised. They don’t need amplication! Their glorious sound filled the hall then later in the local pub for an impromptu singing session. Their version of When I Die I’ll Live Again in the lounge of that local pub was astonishing.

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Happy New Year and all that. I’ve not blogged for over a month. Ran out of energy last year but the New Year brings a burst of energy and a creative boost. Or should that be a kick up the backside? Thanks to artistic pal and Poetry with Friends sidekick, Gail Curry for that. Here’s some of her work I wore earlier this winter…

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Gail’s been working hard. First she moved her studio to Whitley Bay and now she’s just launched the Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC programme of workshops for 2016. She’s put me to shame with her industry so here’s a plug for all of them.

Do you fancy having a go at Art Journaling or needle felting or Lino Cut or Gelli plate? How about participating in a Haiku Poetry workshop or have a go at “Writing the Unwritten”?  How about getting involved with Craftivism?

Tempting? Then visit Gail at Boo Boo and Ted at 264 Whitley Road in Whitley’s town centre or visit her website for details on all courses. Get yourself booked on a course and start this year the way you mean to go on.

http://www.happyplanetcreativearts.org.uk/p/blog-page_28.html

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When I lived in London I practically tripped over celebrities. I walked past actors in the street (Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman) and served Hollywood stars and musicians in shops (Whoopi Goldberg, Andy Summers, Neil Tennant).  Musicians drove past me in cars (Van Morrison, Annie Lennox) & TV chefs walked by me in central London streets (Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson).

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I’ve been living back in my native North East for over six years. I don’t “star spot” as frequently as I did in London but I don’t care. Every so often a famous face pops up. I shared the same train carriage as Lemn Sissay on Wednesday morning. We were both heading south from Newcastle. I realised I’d gone and missed him perform in Sunderland the previous night. Oh dear…

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But who needs “celebs” when the North East in general and North Tyneside in particular is teeming with Northern Stars?  Last Thursday I attended The Stanza, a spoken word and music night held in Heaton’s Chillingham Arms pub. Chilly was the word to describe the door. I kept my coat on throughout because I had to see Ken Creen  perform. Ken is a wonderful wordsmith and has the comic timing of Eric Morecambe, Vic Reeves and Dave Allen. He also happens to live near me in North Tyneside.

Ken loves words and shares this love with audiences in a humorous and uplifting way. I nicknamed him The Legendary Ken Creen and the nickname sticks because it’s an accurate description. The truth is always authentic.

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The next night I performed at a private party in Whitley Bay. The host was Don, who runs Bay Traders on Whitley Road. It was great to share my poems with the guests and to share the stage with local band The Corn Shacks.

This “Soggy Bottomed” four-piece played American Bluegrass, Carl Perkins covers and even Spirit in the Sky using washboard, whistle, flute, uke, guitar and kazoo. Oh and har-mo-nees. Sweet harmonies.

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On this much-hyped Black Friday I wanted to point out Northern Stars twinkling before our eyes: Ken, The Corn Shacks but also local small businesses like Don’s Bay Traders and his neighbours opposite on Whitley Road:  Boo Boo and Ted and Happy Planet Accessories. Pay them a visit anytime and support them next Saturday December 5th on Small Business Saturday.

https://www.facebook.com/BayTraders/

http://www.happyplanetaccessories.co.uk/

http://www.boobooandted.co.uk/

https://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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 gail@happyplanetcreativearts.org.uk

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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.

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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:

https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/leisure-libraries-and-tourism/local-history-and-heritage/tyne-bridge-publishing

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!

fenwick

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.

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And there’s an exhibition at Newcastle’s Discovery Museum all about the famous Fenwick Christmas Window. Check it out https://discoverymuseum.org.uk/whats-on/fenwick-unwrapped

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