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flamingWhat came first, Planet Earth by Duran Duran or Japan’s Quiet Life? And why are the woodpigeons on my roof singing It Overtakes Me by The Flaming Lips?  These are questions I’m grappling with after two months in lockdown.

Okay I appreciate these questions aren’t as important as what is happening around the world right now but at least I stand a chance of answering the music-related questions I choose to set for myself. I feel brighter after composing  obscure quizzes with questions on my favourite topics of music, literature and art plus history, geography and world religions. No science or maths questions. I’m the Quiz Mistress and I make the rules.

I wish that scoring full marks in my solo pub quizzes and doing well in Pop Master, Pointless, Mastermind, Tipping Point and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire would count for something right now. Imagine if my weekly score for all these quizzes could be translated into scientific knowledge to help us through COVID-19. It would be fabulous if my knowledge of 1980s pop music terminated Dominic Cummings’ role as Special Advisor to Boris Johnson or forced Trump out of office. I wish that my middle-aged brain filled with useless facts about 20th century British poets could solve the problems of the world and cool the anger so many of us feel right now.

Anyway.  Would you like to know the answers to the questions I posed at the start of this blog?

japanJapan first released Quiet Life as a single in Japan (the country) back in 1979 and the following year in Germany and the Netherlands. It was finally released in the UK in 1981  and became a top 20 hit in October of that year. The Durans made number 12 in the UK charts in February 1981 with Planet Earth. I think the Durans must have heard Quiet Life before writing Planet Earth. What do you think? Answers on a postcard…

woodAnd what about woodpigeons covering the catchy It Overtakes Me? Trust me on this. Listen out for the distinctive cooing from your roof and sing along “It overtakes me, it overtakes me, it overtakes me…”

indexIt’s day six of my blog tour and I’m enjoying my visits to a range of book-loving blogs. Read to Ramble has given The Princess of Felling a five star review. Blogger Ellie writes:

“I absolutely adored reading this book from start to finish and it absolutely deserves 5 stars! This was such a special memoir, it wasn’t like those that you can never understand or you get bored reading, I felt like I had known Elaine for years and I could relate to many things she went through, struggles she faced, experiences she lived, feelings she had and the grief of losing loved ones. My favourite part of this book was reading about her and her father’s relationship, it reminded me of my own relationship with my father and it brought tears to my eyes. It would seem both Elaine and I have fond memories of our dads driving us to school.

This was such a beautiful, heartfelt, special, unique book and I can only recommend it to everyone. This is a book that I will remember for a very long time to come. I have never visited Felling or even been near the North East of England, but I feel like I know this place she grew up in. This book made me laugh, smile, made my eyes water, and brought back so many lovely memories of my own childhood and teenage years and I’m so, so glad that I got to read this book. It really is the beautiful story of a Princess, paying tribute to her King and Queen and the town in which her Castle is still standing today.”

Ellie interviewed me about the process of writing Princess. You can read this interview and her review in full by clicking here

 

It’s World Book Night. It’s Shakespeare’s Birthday and Death day. I should have been hosting a fundraiser for Felling Volunteer Library this evening. Ah well. At least I’m enjoying my virtual blog tour. It’s Day Four and we’re visiting the fabulous Intensive Gassing About Books. Enjoy exploring this blog!

Intensive Gassing About Books

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The Princess of Felling is a really charming book of memories, photographs and poetry which trace Elaine’s childhood growing up in Felling in the North East of England. As someone who grew up in a different part of the world but has moved to the North East in adulthood, this really appealed to me as I don’t feel that I know a tremendous amount about the area near to where I live. Google can only tell you so much, the real history and heart can only be learned from the community!

Reading The Princess of Felling made me smile! In her introduction, Elaine states “I make no apologies for using the word “mam” … she was first mammy then mam and I was always ‘the bairn’.” When I first moved to the North I found parts of the language impossible to understand and now I can’t imagine not hearing the…

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thumbnail_Princess of Felling CoverI’m off on tour! It’s a virtual tour, of course.  I have Jennifer C Wilson to thank for introducing me to the concept of blog tours. I’d never heard of them but then I am more landline than Zoom and prefer letter writing to Skype calls.

I contacted the wonderful Anne Cater  in January and she agreed to organise a blog tour celebrating the publishing anniversary of The Princess of Felling. Has it been a year? It has! My pink Princess rolled off the press in April 2019 and I enjoyed hosting months of Princess events on Tyneside and in London.

The Princess blog tour was part of the first anniverary celebrations I’d planned for April and May 2020. Events included performances in Felling and Whitley Bay plus a couple of writing workshops . All these events were cancelled in March when lockdown was announced.

I must confess that the COVID-19 crisis made me forget all about the blog tour. When I’m not writing I work part-time as an Activities Co-ordinator in a local care home. I found myself classed as a key worker and concentrated on the day job rather than the Princess and her anniversary.

I was delighted when Anne emailed in late March to say 19 bloggers from all parts of the UK wanted to take part in the blog tour. It was an unexpected boost to me at the start of lockdown.

The bloggers have read the book and will post their reviews over 12 days starting this coming Monday 20th April. One blogger has interviewed me and another will host a Princess giveaway. I’ve had fun this week checking out all the blogs. What a range of writing styles and reading preferences! Thanks to my tour manager Anne and all the bloggers for this tour.

Here’s the tour itinerary. Are you joining me on the tour bus?

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Get on the Magic Bus

Last night marked two weeks since we Brits finished up our pints and left our local pubs. Boris Johnson told us to go home to protect the NHS and save lives so we did.  I marked this fortnight anniversary by sitting in my lounge drinking bitter shandy and watching the 5pm press conference from Downing Street. Matt Hancock was in charge of proceedings. I find it hard to take him seriously after Guardian columnist Marina Hyde referred to him as Hatt Mancock. Last night he looked like a frightened schooboy attempting to stand up to his bullies in the locker room. Matt ended his speech by pledging to “stretch every sinew” in his fight against COVID-19. I believe this is the second time he’s used this phrase during Downing Street press conferences.  I hope he doesn’t give himself a hernia stretching his sinews for Britain or he’ll end up in perpetual Sick Bay with Boris.

I have a huge appetite for rolling news. I’d rather iron my clothes in front of BBC News 24  than binge on Scandinavian drama. I don’t read as many newspapers as I used to. Back in the mid-noughties I’d buy The Guardian every day to read as I commuted between Cambridge and London. Things are different now. I scroll through news updates on my phone during work lunch breaks but I also subscribe to The Guardian. I take a coupon to my local newsagents every Saturday and the Weekend Guardian sees me through  Saturday, Sunday and the early part of the following week.

Around this time last year another Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland suggested rationing news intake. He offered this advice to Brexit-weary readers. I took his advice and rationed myself to the 8am news bulletin on Radio 4’s Today programme, a bit of lunchtime scrolling on my phone and either BBC News at 6pm or 10pm or the Channel 4 News at 7pm.

I’m doing the same with Coronavirus. At first I was glued to TV, radio and both tablet and phone, ingesting every update. Now I’m rationing myself once more. There’s only so much news you can take. I am limiting news intake for the sake of my tiny, whirring brain.

I’ve always adored radio. It’s my favourite media. I have happy memories of dancing round to Ed “Stewpot” Stewart’s weekend radio show with my beloved Tom and Jerry-shaped radio glued to my left ear. Inevitably I find radio in general and the BBC in particular comforting right now. I start the day with Today for the 7am and 8am news bulletins and I’m back home from work to join Evan Davis at the start of the extended PM programme at 4.30pm. I’ll catch up on the day’s events, including the daily Downing Street press conference as I cook an early tea. We’ll have finished eating just in time for the 6pm news on BBC1.

You can’t have a soundtrack without music and in between news bulletins I’ve been listening to BBC Radio 6 Music, Radio 2 and my local station Radio Newcastle. The songs I’ve heard are forming a playlist in my head with Christine and the Queens’ People, I’ve Been Sad my earworm of choice. It seems to fit my mood and whenever I’ve seen men (always men!) behaving like idiots about their beloved piles of money, I find myself singing Christine’s song at my TV screen. The song reminds me how stupid these so-called Titans of Industry are.

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Reine Christine

And who are the COVIDIOTS, you ask? Well there’s Donald “I feel no empathy” Trump then here in Britain we have Mike Ashley, Sir Richard Branson, Gordon Ramsay, Rick Stein and Brexit poster boy Tim “Wetherspoon” Martin for starters. I can’t be bothered to type their misdemeanours. You can find out if you’re interested.

So thank you Christine and the Queens for helping me at this time. I’ve also enjoyed adding the following to my virtual playlist: OutKast’s Hey Ya!, Get Back by The Beatles, Los Angeles band Flat Worms, KD Lang’s version of The Air That I Breathe, Loose by The Stooges, Shalamar’s Night to Remember, The Crystal Lake by Grandaddy, Lovefool by The Cardigans and Drinking in L.A. by one hit wonders Bran Van 3000. Can it really be 23 years since that song was released? I LOVE IT. Click here to hear it

Thank you to  Lisa Shaw, Simon Logan, Lauren Laverne, Tom Ravenscroft, Jo WhileyMarc Riley and other BBC DJs on local and national stations.  I long to sing these songs in a pub beer garden over a pint of bitter shandy and a packet of pickled onion crisps. I’m not sure when that will be but I know it won’t be in a Wetherspoons beer garden.

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Flat Worms in action

Hard to believe that two weeks ago I was strolling in sunny Galloway with my Love. We were in Scotland celebrating my 50th birthday. Our planned trip to the Isle of Arran was cancelled due to bad weather so we mooched around Scotland’s book town, Wigtown and neighbouring Bladnoch. Our favourite shop was Beltie Books: great conversation and fabulous cakes.

We enjoyed browsing the shops and exploring the countryside. Of course COVID-19 was in every conversation and I worry for the hotels and B&Bs we stayed in plus the delightful cafes and pubs we visited. Will they cope?

Our final day and night was spent in the beautiful Isle of Whithorn, one of Scotland’s most southerly villages and seaports. Cult film The Wicker Man was shot there. I wonder if the annual Wee Wicker Man Festival will take place this summer as planned?

When I’m not writing I work as an Activities Co-ordinator in a care home. I’m now officially classed as a key worker as are the home’s carers and domestic staff. I’ve always thought that care workers and home care workers trundling around the community on foot, unreliable public transport and occasionally in cars are undervalued by government and society.  Pity it’s taken a global pandemic for them to get the recognition they deserve.

Yesterday morning Ocado’s Chair Stuart Rose was interviewed on Radio Four’s Today programme. He described his experience of living with Coronavirus. Stuart, or Lord Rose of Monewden, is the former executive chairman of Marks & Spencer. He must know a thing or two about food production and distribution.

Lord Rose announced on air “Nobody will starve” in this current crisis then advised listeners get creative in the kitchen. He suggested cooking a roast chicken then using the leftovers the next day for a stirfry and perhaps a soup. Thanks, Stuart. I’m sure I’m not the only listener who’s spent a lifetime stretching ingredients over days.

Let’s hope Rose is right with his claim that “Nobody” in the UK  “will starve” as a result of this situation. His comment referred to the customers of Ocado but what about the rest of the UK and beyond?

Our government tell us this is an economic as well as health crisis. I think we worked that one out for ourselves over a fortnight ago, especially those of us existing on the minimum wage or less. It’s a global financial crisis which will hit the poorest of world hardest.

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The Isle of Whithorn on Monday 16th March 2020

What do you mean you’ve never heard of James Last?” I said to an elderly German lady of my acquaintance. I added “But you must know him! He’s been popular in England for almost as long as you’ve lived here.”

jamesI had to accept her words. She’d never heard of him so I shared the following potted biography. James Last was born Hans Last on the 17th April 1929 in Bremen,  North West Germany. He started his musical career as a jazz bassist but became internationally known as a composer and leader of his James Last Orchestra. His trademark “happy music” made his albums bestsellers in Germany and the UK. It is said he sold approximately 200 million albums worldwide in his lifetime.

My German friend is a connoisseur of classical music. I suspect this is the reason why she’s never heard of him. I was brought up on his classical-light albums because my Mam and her sister my Aunty Maureeen adored his accessible sound. He turned classical music into pop in the 1960s and 1970s. The Blue Danube was turned into a pop song.

When I was a super cool indie music fan in my teens I laughed at James Last’s music. I  replayed his version of Winchester Cathedral over and over and hooted with laughter at the kazoo-led section of the tune. What nonsense I thought and played Hatful of Hollow  by The Smiths for the umpteenth time

I forgot about James Last and his orchestra in my late teens and went off to university. My first job on graduating was the role of Editorial Assistant for a long-gone magazine called Rock CD.

We were based in London’s Docklands. My job description allowed for a range of tasks including fetching coffee and lunch for the Editor and making up letters for the letters page.

James Last026-002I also looked after our chaotic picture library. In one of my many attempts to tidy it up I found this photograph. It’s a shot of James Last and his orchestra onstage. Perhaps they are rehearsing or it might be mid-gig. Who knows but the sight of James in his John Lennonesque white suit made me homesick for Aunty Maureen’s record collection. I think that is what compelled me to rehouse the image in my personal collection of weird and wonderful postcards and found photographs.

And that’s where it has stayed until now.

James died in Florida on  9th June  2015. He was 86. According to Wikipedia James undertook his final tour months before his death. His final UK performance was his 90th at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Apparently the only performer to perform more than James is Eric Clapton.

Image result for james lastJames was never high brow but he was phenominally successful. Why not allow yourself the chance to enjoy his finest hour? It’s kazoo-tastic

 

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I K Brunel

History comes alive in well-managed museums and thoughtfully curated exhibitions. Last month I spent the best part of a Saturday on Brunel’s SS Great Britain. The ship and adjoining museum allow you to immerse yourself in Brunel’s achievements. I marvelled at the ship’s size as well as the sights, sounds and smells recreated on board.

There’s a section of the museum called Being Brunel and you go inside his mind. It took me a while to come back to 2019!

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SS Great Britain

I enjoy being transported back in time. Our region’s Beamish Museum is subtitled “the Living Museum of the North” and it never takes long for me to accept those working in the shops and pubs are walking, talking examples of late 19th and early 20th century Northerners.

I’m reflecting on North East history as I prepare to perform at a special event this Saturday evening. It’s the 17th Annual Concert commemorating the anniversary of the New Hartley Pit Disaster of 1862.

I didn’t know much about the disaster until summer 2011 when I heard about a call out for contributions to a forthcoming anthology commemorating the disaster 150th anniversary the following January 2012.

 I went away and researched the Hartley disaster. I read books and visited the village of New Hartley. I also went to St Alban’s church yard in Earsdon where I walked round and round the memorial erected to honour the lives of over 200 men and boys who perished in the senseless, needless tragedy.

80259166_10156727685926299_6316966353391583232_nI wrote a poem called History Lesson and it was included in the anthology Still the Sea Rolls on. I’ll perform it on Saturday in the New Hartley Community Hall. It’s my first time on the stage although I’ve sat in the audience several times in recent years.

I will perform the poem for those linked to or touched by those dreadful events of January 1862. I suspect that will be all of the audience and fellow performers.

I love reading this blog and that’s why I’m sharing it with you….

“How often do you write blog posts?” It’s a question I get asked again and again. When I first started blogging here almost six years ago I made the vow to post weekly but soon realised there’s not much point writing unless I’ve got something to say.

Books on TyneI try to blog every month but it’s hard when I’m busy. In the past five weeks I’ve been away to Birmingham and visited London twice. I’ve also hosted a couple of gigs and am currently prepping for my final one of the year. It’s The Princess and the Piano at  Newcastle Central Library this coming Monday 25th November. It’s a FREE but ticketed event. Get yours here

I’m ready to write this blog because I am full of creative excitement for my next writing project. But why blog right now? I put it down to my overflowing well of inspiration! I’ve been filling it over the past month. In Birmingham I spent time with a friend and she revealed some of her favourite haunts.  I danced and sang along to musicians in a Cuban bar in Moseley and marvelled at the main Library of Birmingham with its floors filled with books and exhibitions. We saw Pride and Prejudice (Sort Of) at Birmingham Rep. Great venue. Enjoyable evening.

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The Princess and her pals

My trip to London on 31st October was to host my Princess in Bloomsbury event on November 1st. This was the London launch of The Princess of Felling and the upstairs room of one of my favourite boozers, The Rugby Tavern, was filled with friends old and new who came to support me. What a night! Loved connecting with folk I’d not seen in years.

 

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The Death of a Good Old Man

Four days after returning from London I was on another LNER train to London with my pal, the artist and writer, Gail Curry. I’m a Director of her business Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC and on that trip we were still on a high after Gail beat over 600 other local business to take the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.

Our mission in London was to see some art. The first day we visited the National Gallery and saw the Pre-Raphaelite Sisters exhbition. The following day we spent about five hours in the V&A and I lost myself in the ceramics and glass collections. Bliss. The third day was given over to the William Blake exhibition at Tate Britain. Wow. So modern. So amazing. Go and see it.

Since returning home I’ve seen Seamus Murphy’s film A Dog Called Money at the Tyneside Cinema. Beautifully shot. Strong narrative. My heroine PJ Harvey’s involved so I’m bound to praise it! I’ve also seen Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You at The Jam Jar Cinema in Whitley Bay. The film’s stayed with me since watching it. The Britain it portrays is bleak and the protagonist is angry. On reflection I believe this is an accurate depiction of where we are in late November 2019, weeks before a General Election and Christmas.

Last weekend I co-hosted the final North Tyneside Writers’ Circle of the year at North Shelds Library. There were almost 30 attendees, including a handful of first-timers. I was pleased to introduce poet Steve Urwin who talked about his writing life and his projects. I find Steve’s writing and work ethic inspiring and it was great to see others in the room “get” him.

The following day I saw Kate Tempest perform at Newcastle’s Boiler Shop. I haven’t heard or read her work but knew I wanted to see her. I was impressed by her energy, her connection with her audience and by her work.

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Me with Ali Finlayson in Shiremoor Library

Right now I’m still processing an event I hosted three days ago in Shiremoor Library called Meet the Poets: Ali Finlayson and Friends. This afternoon event was the culimation of work with Ali and his writer friends plus the support of North Tyneside Libraries. It was wonderful to see folk enjoying Ali’s poems.

Art, music, poetry, design, film, theatre, connecting with old and new friends and collaborating with the likes of writer Sandy Chadwin and musician Mike Waller fill my creative well. I am ready to start my next writing project. Thank you to everyone who has inspired me this year, this month, this week.

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