Archives for the month of: November, 2015

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).


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…


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.


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.


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.

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


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