When the Roll is called.

Johnny Cash “Hurt”

I wanted to include a Johnny Cash song in the blog and this one of his best. Cash is a man of many contradictions and a product of his time. I love this Nine Inch Nails song and Johnny makes it all the more visceral. He recorded this song just before he died and you can feel the pain. He was also a religious person and listening to the song brought back a long forgotten memory of the day when religious zealots tried to recruit me.cash

I was brought up in the West-End of Newcastle as, what my Father would have described as “A good Catholic boy”. Religion was drummed into us with a bible and a strap. For as long as I can remember, we were taught to accept and not to question. In the concrete shelters of our local park we were learning a different reality. Here we fought over playground access rights with the Protestant kids, kissed girls and smoke cigarettes

One winter’s evening a group of recruiters from the Bethshan Mission came into the park hoping to save the bad Catholic boys and girls from the clutches of Satan. They told us they were starting a youth club and invited us along. Cold winter nights in a warm church hall seemed more appealing than a concrete shelter in a park.

There were games and orange juice and biscuits and then hymn singing. I only remember the one and that was called “When the roll is called up yonder” It intrigued me,and I asked what it was all about and they told me that only the righteous would go to Heaven and the Catholics would all go to Hell because they hadn’t been saved. It was another small step in my realisation that religion was divisive and hypocritical

When The Roll is called up Yonder

 

Here come the Priests and the skinny Nuns

Telling me what to think and what to feel

Of how to dress and how to pray

What is fantasy and what is real

 

With their own version of the truth

The people who have all the answers

They want us to be better through fear

To become our spiritual planners

 

They feed us a deceit of their own making

There is no Roll there is no Yonder

There is no Almighty God

There is no afterlife to ponder

 

What we have is what is here

The now, not the ever after

Make the best of what you’ve got

Enjoy love, life and laughter

 

© Jeff Price September 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bulldozer

At Seventeen: Janis Ian

This is a truly beautiful song. The lyrics are stunning, you can feel the pain of a young person who doesn’t fit. It is a song that speaks of a divided country and  of the unreasonable values society imposes on its young people. My method of writing this blog is to listen to my chosen track and let it inspire the poem. Sometimes there is a wonderful synergy between the music and the poetry and other times the connection is slight. This time all I took from the song was the age of seventeen. I think I was intimidated by the words anything I could write could not compare to the wonderful poetry of the lyrics of “Ar Seventeen”.

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It is a long time since I was seventeen in 1965 and Newcastle was a very different place than today. 

I had left school and was working at Bainbridge’s department store (now John Lewis).

 

 

In my youth the world was not yet technicolour but the grim days of World War 2  were far behind us and the bright colours of the 1960’s were beginning. The city fathers were bulldozing the slums and building new housing along the riverbank. In those days it was a lucky few who went to higher education for most of us working class kids it was not even a consideration. There were however jobs a plenty and you could walk out of one and in to another. Wages weren’t brilliant but living costs were low and the Cuban Missile crisis of 1962 had passed and there was a feeling of optimism and hope that the world could be a better place. It wasn’t to last long before we would see the shipyards close and the coal mines of Durham and Northumberland shut.

Following the de-industrialisation of Newcastle it reinvented itself as a tourist city populated by art galleries, restaurants and music venues. it has become a popular destination for Stag and Hen parties.

Young people were offered work in Call Centres or Government paper factories like the Department of Work and Pensions. many young people went elsewhere to look for fame and fortune. Of our five daughters all but one live in other parts of the UK and Ireland, there they have found more opportunities and better prospects.

Yet it still remains an optimistic place, the people will still greet you with a smile and despite all its faults it is still a city I love and I would not want to live anywhere else.

 

Bulldozer

 

Streets of varicose veins terraced houses swept down to the river

Coughing chimneys wake the wary for the first shift of the day

Through fog filled streets they trudge their weary way to work

 

Factories and mines were swept away with the rotting slums

Shipyards and blast furnaces emptied like a tidal lagoon

To those left behind progress was stuck in the silted river mud

 

They reinvented the  city in restaurants and shopping centres

Refashioned its theatre of streets and avenues of art galleries

They sold our birthright for a seat under a Michelin star

 

©Jeff Price September 2017

 

 

 

Hedgerow Jam

The Lovin Spoonful: Summer in the City

It’s over, gone not going to see the warmth until next year. The winds are blowing through Newcastle. The trees outside our apartment are swaying likes drunks at a party. Here in the North of England we enjoy very short summer nights with the sun hardly Lovin_Spoonful_1965setting but in the winter the opposite happens and the sun rises reluctantly like a teenager from its sleep in the morning and goes to bed like an old aged pensioner tired of life. The Lovin Spoonful’s Summer in the City is a last farewell until we meet again next year.

This morning walking down the bridleway that runs along side the apartments I noticed the bramble bushes had been stripped of their fruit and only a handful of blackberries remained. Last September Lynda and I picked bags full of fruit and made hedgerow jam but this year everything has ripened a bit too early and we have missed our chance to harvest this years crop.

When I was in primary school in the 1950’s our half term holiday at the end of October was known locally as Blackberry Week but these days the blackberries are finished by the beginning of September. As I write  category 5 hurricanes are sweeping through the Caribbean and the Florida coast, droughts have become endemic in Northern Africa, climate change is becoming a frightening reality that only the deluded can doubt. The changes here are small in comparison but feel part of the same story.

Hedgerow Jam

The northern summer has had its last fling

Naked bramble bushes line the waggonway

Their crop hatched early in the hedgerow

They were rich picking for the jam makers

And enthusiastic children with blackened fingers

But I was in a foreign land watching figs and peaches

The treasure trove of ripened fruit passed me by

I remember blackberry week in late October

When parents would take their city kids

Foraging in the narrow lanes of Northumberland

For one final fling before winter’s blanket

Now our wounded world is weeping

And brambles have become a summer fruit

The birds will miss their autumn treat

I will miss hedgerow jam on my morning toast

©Jeff Price September 2017

Dancing with Ghosts

Orleans- Dance with me

I know Orleans may be consider a bit of a naff 1970’s song but I am unashamed to say, I like it. The harmonies are great and they did play Woodstock so that makes them cool.

Our time in France has come to an end for another year. It has been marked by unreliable weather and biting things that seem to find my crutch and armpits comfortable homes. But, it will be mostly remembered as the first year when all the grandchildren plus four out of five of our daughters came to visit. It is hard to explain the joy that brings. Without being maudlin, I have to accept as my seventieth year approaches the number of summers in France I have left are limited. Which makes each summer more precious and something to be savoured.

Now, the house is all closed up and everything stored away until next year. We awoke this morning in Newcastle and I have to go and have a haircut as I look like a hippie at the end of the Glastonbury Festival. I haven’t stepped on the bathroom scales yet but I know all those morning croissants come with a price tag and it’s soup for the next month.

This week blog features an additional musical influence,  George Smith and The Hicksville Swing Band. To see the band: click here

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They played at the Friday night market in Beauville a couple of weeks ago and Lynda and I, along with friends Nicky and Helen danced the night away. Most cover bands annoy me, they usually ruin songs I love but this band were different and a couple of their numbers were even better than the original (or was that the wine?).

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View from the Jardin des Indians

Beauville is a place well worth a visit. It is steeped in history, it switched sides during the 100 Years War from English to French and when once threatened by the Black Death the villagers prayed to St Roch and the village was spared. They still give thanks every year with a special mass and feast to thank the saint.

One of the stranger stories is associated with the Jardin des Indians (a small park at the end of the village). It takes its name from an event in 1892 when a three members of the Osage tribe of Native Americans were stranded in France. They had been part of a Wild West Show that ran out of money.

The people of Beauville raised funds for them and enabled then to return home. This led to regular visits by the Osage people. In 1992 park land was dedicated by the local town council as belonging to the Chickasaw Nation (Osage Tribe is part of the Chickasaw Nation).

Dancing with Ghosts

 

They are the ghosts in the shadows of an ancient landscape

They watch from behind the heavy arched Bastide walls

They watch the dancers In the moonlight cast of the bell tower

 

They watch a scene that is little changed in six hundred years

They danced when the siege ended and the town became French

They danced to honour St Roch who saved them from the plague

 

They danced when the harvest was secure and the larders were full

They danced when the Bastille fell and the revolution swept south

They danced to the tunes of the travelling troubadours

 

They danced when the weary returned from the battlefields of Flanders

They danced when the Germans retreated across broken bridges

They danced to the rhythms of the Osage drums

 

We dance as our grandchildren swirl around our legs

We dance to the saxophone, the guitar and the stomp of feet

We dance because we still can and until we can no longer

 

© Jeff Price September 2017

 

The Dog who humps hoses

Flight of the Conchords: Business Time

 

For nearly four weeks we have had two lots of grandchildren (plus Mums, Dads and an Aunt) visiting us. It has been nonstop enjoyment, early mornings and late boozy nights as we caught up with each other. It has been exhausting but wonderfully enjoyable. 

Now the clean up has begun and we have to get ready to go back to Newcastle. Summer is limping to a closure and in the hedgerows the autumn fruits are ripening and the leaves of the Quercy Oaks are turning yellow. 

We were visiting some friends a couple of weeks ago and their dog was wand

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ering around the garden, he was soaking wet and very smelly after swimming in a local reservoir. His owners said they would have cleaned him up but hosing him down presented a bit if a problem. It seems this particular dog has an odd sexual preference.

I thought this week’s blog should have a fun theme, the Flight of the Chonchords are the best band to deliver fun.It saddens me that the Flight of the Conchords are no more. I loved the TV series and their songs were amazing.  I picked this one as I think it goes perfectly with this week’s blog poem.

The Dog who humps hoses

 

Hissing like a snake the garden hose swells with water

The grass stirs as it twists and shudders in the sunlight

In the corner of the garden the dog stirs, then sniffs the air

His owners wants to wash the dirt of the day from him

But the dog has only one thought, it wants to hump the hose

As soon as the tap is turned and he spies the tumescent tubing

He is filled with a surge of testosterone and hormones

He wants that hose, he needs that hose, he must have that hose

Making bath time a surreal experience for his owners

In the circumstances, it is just as well it is a cold water tap

 

© Jeff Price August 2017