Crashing Out

R.E.M. “Losing my Religion”

Say what you like about REM they can craft a good pop song.

rem
REM Losing my Religion

I was brought up a Catholic but lost my faith when I was a teenager. These days I find the concept of a God and religion as ridiculous as believing in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy. I accept that many intelligent, good and decent people do not share my view. I do believe that everyone should have the right to worship whatever God they like as long as they do not seek to impose those views and values on other people who do not share them.

My High School was St Cuthbert’s, a Catholic Grammar School in Newcastle, the Head was Father Cassidy a man famous for his temper, his intolerance and his enthusiasm for beating young boys. 

Here is a BONUS addition to the blog. Click below to download a short story called “Docherty”. It is based on an incident that happened at St Cuthbert’s when I was eleven years old.  Click here :docherty

This week’s poem recalls an event when I was an altar boy for a priest called Father Boyle, a person I had a lot of time for. He had a mischievous sense of humour and wasn’t aloof like a lot of the other priests at school.  All CatholicPriests were required to say Mass every day even though they were teachers and had no church. In the basement of the priest’s house in the grounds of the school were a number of small chapels where the priests would say mass to a congregation of none, just me and Father Boyle at seven-thirty in the morning. 

Father Boyle could say the a mass in under fifteen minutes and one morning he told me he was going for a personnel best time. This poem is about that morning.

Postscript… Since the blog was published I had a phone call from fellow poet and St Cuthbert’s old boy Aidan Clarke. Aidan and I had attended a poetry night in Durham the night before I published the blog and I had read out the poem. Aidan contacted me to tell me that he had recently been discussing Father Boyle with some another St Cuthbert’s old boys and he had recalled how Father Boyle had read out a poem he had written when Aidan was in the 6th Form and although it was over fifty years ago he could still 

Photo from Jeff Price

recall what the poem was about. Father Boyle had gone to comfort a couple who had lost their five-year old child and he was questioning how a merciful God could let a five year old die. A few days after that discussion Aidan, who has an unhealthy interest in cemetaries had been walking through Lemington Cemetary on the outskirts of Newcastle when he saw this grave. The latin inscription reads “A Priest Forever”.

Crashing Out

 

I was born a Catholic, the catechism beaten into me by Nuns with bad habits

Faith seeps out of most, even the most devoted, a slow puncture on the road of life

For many, routine and the fear of the hereafter kept them shackled to the Alter

My faith was involved in a head-on shunt on a spring morning when I was thirteen

I was an Alter Boy for Father Boyle saying Mass in an empty chapel

Latin incantations rattled through the liturgy like an express train

Never stopping at the stations in between only focused on getting to the end

The Priest ignored obstructions pausing only to issue instructions

As the final bell rang, he checked his watch, eleven and a half minutes

With a triumphant smile he announced his personal best time

A light went on, if it was a game to him why should it mean something to anyone else

Belief hitched a ride on the breakdown truck, It was never seen again

In the years that followed on dark crisis ridden nights when all hope had vanished

I would call up an instinctive prayer that was always unanswered

It is over fifty years since the last prayer left my lips

 

©Jeff Price November 2017

 

Lost Love

The Streets: Dry Your Eyes

The pain in this song is visceral and it is in the tiny details that you can appreciate the agony that he is going through. I also love the way he combines the spoken word and the music by using a sung chorus to glue the whole piece together.

Mike-Skinner-the-Streets-007
Mike Skinner The Streets

Have you ever had your heart-broken? Of course you have , everybody has at one time in their lives. The first woman to break my heart was called Lynn. I met her when I worked in Bainbridge’s department store where she worked on the beauty counter selling eyelashes. The sixties was all about the eyelashes.

I had never experienced emotions like it before and it was amazing. When we were together I was elated and when we were apart I was anticipating our next date. We could talk for hours and in the way that young people do we explored our emotions and our bodies. 

There was one major problem, both of us lived at home with our families. Today, we would have got a flat together but in those far off days that was not how things were done. We had a wedding in the cathedral in Newcastle with the her looking amazing in her wedding dress and me looking a right idiot in a mourning suit but I didn’t care. I was in love.

I do not remember much about that time, large chunks have disappeared from my memory. All I know is that six months later she left. Later, I understood we were both too young and not emotionally equipped for marriage. Her Father had died not long before we met and she was a little lost and I must have offered some sort of security but she must have realised that I was not the one for her. Like in the song, I remember trying to persuade her not to leave but nothing I said made any difference.

In the immediate aftermath after she left I was devastated, depressed and miserable. However, it taught me some valuable life lessons. I found out who my true friends were. Even when I was miserable they stood by me. I learnt to stand on my own two feet and be independent.  After a particularly disastrous meal consisting of a “cook in the tin” steak pie, instant potato and peas I dug out a recipe book we had been given as a wedding present and I discovered a love of cooking that I still enjoy today.

Except for a brief encounter a short time afterwards I never saw her again. Soon after I heard through the grapevine she was seeing someone else. I have no idea what happened to Lynn but I hope she found love and that she has had a happy life.  

 

Lost Love

The taxi driver drops the small suitcase into the boot

She slips into the back seat and pulls her coat collar up

Water pulses onto the windscreen from a sullen northern sky

All that was found and lost she will leave behind

All that is unknown and terrifying she will face alone

 

© Jeff Price November 2017

 

The Dictionary

The Clash “London Calling”

Released in 1979 this seemed, at the time, as a call to action and a portent of what was to come. There was a darkness to punk that the Clash reflected. I think their music and politics was summed up by critic Sean Egan when he wrote that the Clash were exceptional because: 

clash“They were a group whose music was, and is, special to their audience because that music insisted on addressing the conditions of poverty, petty injustice, and mundane life experienced by the people who bought their records…”

I liked the Clash and in particular the album “London’s Calling” I have spent a great part of my life visiting London either because of work or to meet up with friends and family. It is a sprawling place were even the smallest journey seems to take a life time but it has an energy and vitality that is difficult to beat. Much as I love my home town of Newcastle it can’t rival London for sheer variety and originality. 

Over forty years ago I remember travelling from Hackney to Stepney on a bus late at night when I fell in to conversation with the conductor (this was in the days when you had a person separate from the driver who would collect the fares). He was reading a dictionary and we talked about words and language. English was not his first language and he was fascinated by the sheer number of words in the dictionary. The words had a magic quality to him and I loved the delight he took in discovering new words. Something I still find today, 

My problem was always not the words but the spelling of them but now thanks to software it no longer troubles me since I discovered computers, spellcheckers and word processing software.

This is an old poem of mine from my first collection called “Doors” but it’s a long time since it saw the light of day and finding it was like meeting up with an old friend.

 

Dictionary

 

My father gave me a dictionary

Full of words I did not understand

And could not pronounce

Every vowel was a brawl

Every consonant a skirmish

 

I learned to love the words

That I could not spell

To explore their meanings

Taste their sound on my tongue

Prising them apart

Stitching them back together

 

In my head I wrote poetry

Furtive words about secrets

Never daring to put pen to paper

In case my words would be mocked

And ridiculed

Geordie boys don’t write poetry

 

Thirty years ago

On a Routemaster bus in London

Going from Hackney to Stepney

I shared a dictionary with a conductor

We drooled over the pages

Like schoolboys ogling porn

 

I realised, I was not alone

This was not a fetish

Just a fascination for phonetics

Now, I let the software

Worry about the spelling

While I enjoy creating the lines

 

© Jeff Price August 1998

Being Dusty

Dusty Springfield “You don’t have to say you love me.”

dusty-springfield-9491157-1-402Dusty was my first love. That teenage fantasy love where hope triumphs over reality. I loved her despite the fact that we had never met, she was nine years older than me and a pop star. It didn’t stop a boy from dreaming. Even finding out she was gay didn’t change my mind. She had the voice of an angel and when she sang it felt like she was singing just for me and my answer would be:

“Dusty I will say “I love you” even though you don’t fancy men and you live in America and you are an international super star and I work in a carpet shop in Newcastle, I think we can make it work.”

Dusty’s life was not an easy one. She set herself very high standards and was notoriously difficult to work with. She was a very private person who disliked the prurient press interest in her sexuality. She died of Breast Cancer in 1999.

In my teenage years my bedroom wall was decorated with pictures cut from magazines of pop stars like Dusty. This was music that was mine and not my parents. Heaven help an artist that became popular with my parents, I would immediately take their picture down. You won’t find a Cliff Richard or Cilla Black record in my collection.

Strangely that doesn’t seem to apply to my children. They like many of the same bands I enjoy. They have grown up listening to sixties and seventies bands and they also share with me new tracks and bands that they like, some of whom feature in other posts in this blog. 

My poem this week inspired by Dusty’s music and her life is dedicated to all those who have the courage to be who they want to be, not what the world says they should be.

 

Being Dusty

 

This is for all those who said No when others told them to say Yes

This is for all those who stood Up when others said sit Down

This is for all those who offered a Hand when others raised a Fist

This is for all those who Cried Out when others told them to be Quiet

This is for all those who Stood Firm when others Ran Away

This for all those who were Positive when others were Negative

This is for all those who tried to Understand when others looked to Blame

This is for all those who Dared to love when others only Dreamed

This is for all the Dusty’s of this world who made a Difference

© Jeff Price November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pointing Fingers

The Young’uns: You Won’t Find Me on Benefit Street

younguns
The Young’uns

There is so much I love about this song. The harmonies are magical and the the sentiments are brilliant. The title refers to “Benefit Street” a documentary that was broadcast on Channel 4 in 2014. It focused on the lives of those living on unemployment benefit and was a tacky program that exploited very vulnerable people.

You can check out the Young’uns on their website. Click here

The image of the North that some people have is of lazy and ignorant Northerners. It is a stereotype that was perpetuated by programs like “Benefit Street”. If you have ever been unemployed and had the indignity of “signing on” you will know that it is no picnic. If you are lucky enough not to have had that experience then watch the fantastic movie “I Daniel Blake” to get an understanding of how dehumanising the whole process it is.

My Father had various periods of unemployment and I have been through the same thing myself. One memory of my Dad was when I was eleven years of age. I was lucky enough to pass my eleven plus and I was sent to St Cuthbert’s Grammar School. This presented my family with a problem. Along with my school uniform, I was required to have a full sports oufits including football and cricket kit.

As my Father was unemployed at the time I knew getting all this kit would be impossible so I didn’t tell him about the sports kit. You were supposed to buy all the uniform from a shop in Newcastle called “Issac Walton’s” but it was expensive. My Dad managed to find a blazer somewhere else that was a similar but not quite the right colour and my mother sewed on a school badge (The Issac Walton blazer had the badge embroidered on the ST CUTHBERT BLAZERpocket). When sports day came, I told the teacher I had forgotten my sports kit and the next week I did the same.

As each week passed the threats from the sports master increased until I was eventually sent to the Head and was caned for persistently failing to bring my sports kit. What I didn’t realise was that they would inform my parents and when my Father got the letter he asked me what had happened and I explained what I had done. He went straight to the school and told them about our circumstances.

There was much wringing of hands by teachers and my Dad was embarrassed that I had lied to protect them from the expense. The school gave me a full sports kit gleaned from the lost property bin. I was a fine sight in my mismatched blazer and used and badly fitting sports kit. As you can imagine this was a something that didn’t escape the notice of the school bullies.

My poem this week is about the shame we are all made to feel when we have to apply for unemployment benefit.

 

Pointing Fingers

 

The shame sits like a stone in the pit of my stomach

It is wrought deep into the memory of my class

Forged from generations of pointing pious fingers

I stand with the motley crew of the sullen and crestfallen

All poorly shod and dressed in mean and shabby clothes

We are watched over by the honour guard of security men

In case our humiliation should erupt in understandable fury

Our stories are different but we all end up in the same place

Begging for what is ours and pleading for what we have paid for

 

We are not failures but those who have been failed

We are not unemployable just under employed

 

© Jeff Price 2017

The Wonder Years

Wonderwall: Oasis

wonderwallI listened to this track by Oasis over and over again trying to figure out what it was about and then it came to me in a flash, they are talking about their muse. Although, having read an article in the NME Oasis don’t agree with me but what would they know they only wrote it. Listen to the song yourself and let me know what it says to you.

Poetry and song Lyrics can mean something very different to different people, it depends on your experiences of life. My understanding is shaped by my experiences and in the poetry I am writing for this blog I am sharing that understanding with the reader. 

This blog has become my muse, the discipline of having to publish the blog every Friday has galvanised me into writing. It is easy, when I have no deadline, to put things off until tomorrow but a deadline works wonders for my creative juices. This is the thirty fifth post and it means I am half way through the blog. I promised myself that I would publish seventy new poems inspired by seventy artists with seventy different tracks and it feels good to get half way. Over the last 35 weeks there has been over a thousand visits from 25 different countries and I would like to say a big thank you for the support and the positive and encouraging feedback. 

My poem for this week is a tribute to my muse. My journey as a writer has been a frustrating one. I still have a vivid memory of fifty years ago when a teacher ridiculed a short story I had written in front of the whole class. The shame and the embarrassment still lives with me today but somewhere deep within in me was a voice that was never still and that compelled me to write even if it was in secret.

When I was fifty three, with the support of my other muse, my wife Lynda, I enrolled at Newcastle University. I did a full time master’s degree in poetry and creative writing. It gave me permission to call myself a writer (Although I still find that an odd idea) and now myself and my muse have a much more public relationship. 

I am looking forward to the next thirty five weeks.

The Wonder Years

 

She would whisper sonnets to me in the dead of night

Sometimes fragments of verse or snippets of stanzas

Building blocks of ideas and incongruous images

I fed her new words from in between the covers of novels

Reading her poetry from McGough, Mitchell and Shelley

Images from Elizabeth Bishop and punch lines from John Hegley

She loved the urban language of John Cooper Clarke

There was even a liking for Wordsworth and Keats

I bought her poetry magazines, chapbooks and pamphlets

Still she whispered and still the words could not find a voice

Then the dam broke and the words cascaded out

We enrolled in a school and studied for a degree in poetry

I became a Master and she became a Mistress

Now she will not leave me alone and follows me everywhere

Her night time whispers have become all day entreaties

The days are shorter now and there is still much to do

©Jeff Price November 2017

 

Big Boys Don’t Cry

I’m not in love: 10cc

This is a wonderful love song full of understatement and pathos. Love songs don’t have to be sloppy and sentimental. The build up in the song is tremendous and the way they produced with the multi layered voices makes this an absolute classic. If you want to know how it was done check out this video.

One of the lines in the song is a woman’s voice saying “Big Boys don’t cry” which is 10ccrepeated several times. In the video the band explain that they got the receptionist in the studio to come in and say the line. 

We Geordie boys were brought up to be tight lipped and stoical rather than being open about our feelings. I often saw my Father angry in my youth but didn’t see much of his tender side. I was the rebellious teenager and he was the ex-soldier who was used to people obeying his orders. When I was much older and he was in his eighties my Mother was struck down with Motor Neurone Disease and my Father became her carer. She could not speak and her movements were very restricted. He cared for her with great tenderness and affection. I have a very fond memory of the two of them watching TV one night and my Father stretching across to my Mother’s chair and taking her hand. Although this seems like a very slight thing to me, it summed up the over fifty years of their marriage. 

For the poem I took the line “Big Boys Don’t Cry” and imagined that hard northern boy who thinks expressing your emotions is wrong. It is a stereotype that hopefully is dying out.

Big Boys Don’t Cry

Hard as nails me, not some soppy girl like you

You’ve gotta suck it up mate , push it down

What ever you do, don’t let her get under your skin

Once she thinks she’s got you, you’re done

She’ll take you for everything you got, believe me

I’m a lone wolf, no woman tells me what to do

Except me Mother, she’s a diamond, know what I mean

Worked hard all her life, brought me up single handed

Yeah, still living there, she wouldn’t know what to do without me

 

© Jeff Price October 2017

 

The Beer Can of Spring

Parklife Blur

I was never sure if Parklife was a song or a spoken word piece set to music either way it was a wonderful and very original example of Brit Pop at its very best.

360_walkman_0630It was one of the songs I listened to on my Walkman when out with the dog. (For any young people reading and are wondering what a Walkman is… check out this link).

In the eighties my children nagged me into getting a dog with the promise that I would not have to do anything as they would care for it. That promise soon evaporated and like a thousand parents before me, I ended up doing the early morning walk before work. Just around the corner from our house was an inner city park with a bowling green and benches. Near by was a hostel for the homeless and as the mornings got lighter a day would come when some of the residents would be sitting on the benches enjoying their first drink of the day.

It always lightened my mood when I saw them for the first time in spring. The lighter mornings and the warming air would bring them out of their hiding places until the days shortened and winter returned.

It is many years since I lived near the park. The dog is long gone and the children have grown and have lives of their own. Yesterday, coming back from a Sunday morning visit to the town I found myself strolling back through the park. The bowling green has gone and the park now boasts a restaurant and a coffee wagon that dispenses over priced beverages to the joggers and the parents watching their young children play. There was no sign of the drinkers maybe they have moved on or more likely, the hostel has closed.

The Beer Can of Spring

 

My dog and I walk through the city centre park

The air is clear, the wind slight and unassuming

Clocks have turned and the sun is out of bed

Winter’s cold is lifting and the frost has gone

Turning a corner by the bowling green

There crowded around a park bench are

Two men, a boy and a toothless woman

Each one swigging beer and smoking rollies

I am greeted with a “Ya arreet mate?

 

Spring has arrived with the first pull of a ring can

The dog is fascinated by the smells

Giving each one of them a thorough sniffing

“Whatsa dog’s name” I tell them “Todd”

They are content because the first drink is easy

It will steady the hand and blur the brain

When I return for the dog’s evening walk

They will be squabbling and their faces sullen

But on this congenial morning they are happy

And I am grateful for the good fortune of my life

 

© Jeff Price October 2017

 

The Red Wedding

Bridie Jackson and the Arbour “Scarecrow”

Bridie Jackson and the Arbour where the house band for Radikal Words, a night I ran at Northern Stage in Newcastle. Then they became famous and I couldn’t afford  the fee

Bridie-done

they rightly deserved and we parted. I also had the pleasure of working with Bridie on the “RiverRuns” a stage show we wrote and performed with a group of poets, writers and singer songwriters. The song I have chosen is “Scarecrow”. A wonderful haunting song from the pen of Louis Barabbas. Sadly, The Arbour are no more but Bridie continues to perform and record her music’

I have been to and indeed taken part in a few weddings in my time but in that strange way the muse can sometimes take you, as I listened to the track, I was also thinking of the Labour Party (stay with me on this one). In the 1970’s I was a member of the Labour Party Young Socialists and also an enthusiastic supporter of the Militant. The relationship fell apart following the Miners Strike and what I felt was the betrayal  of the Labour leadership and factional politics of the left.

It has taken a long time for the wounds to heal but the revitalised and reinvigorated Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn have got me once again handing out leaflets and knocking on doors. Jeremy stuck with the party rather than going off in a sulk like I did. From the back benches he fought what must at times seemed like a hopeless task but he prevailed. Marriage is a bit like that for it to work you have to work through the tough times as well as enjoying the good ones (there… got there in the end).

The​ ​Red Wedding

 

You dressed in a red flag for our wedding

I was wore faded jeans and a slogan t-shirt

​You​ ​were​ ​older but I loved where you had come from

I​ ​promised​ ​you​ ​my​ ​undying​ ​devotion

You​ ​offered​ ​me​ ​the​ ​full​ ​fruits​ ​of​ ​my​ ​labour

​I​ ​became​ ​more​ ​demanding eager for change

You​ ​slandered​ ​my​ ​friends​ ​and​ ​then​ ​expelled​ ​them

I walked out disillusioned and bitter

You started dressing like a bank manager

I reluctantly supported you at the ballot box

You went to war and rained death on civilians

I cynically sulked on the sidelines

You found a new voice and rediscovered your heart

I want you to give me a second chance

 

© Jeff Price October 2017

 

Train of Thought

1999 Prince

Prince was another of the great talents that we lost too early. He was a trail blazer and his songs all had that unique imprint of genius.

The millennium was a new start for me, my marriage had come to an end and although I didn’t know it in a few short years I was to leave my job in IT and become a student for the first time and with my Master’s degree in Poetry I was to begin a new career as a jobbing writer and a peripatetic poetry tutor. 

Prince’s song took me back to train journey when I was in my early twenties. We had been partying in the coastal town of Tynemouth celebrating the end of the sixties and beginning of a new decade. That night as I got the train home in the wee small hours of the morning, I had no idea that before me was a nearly thirty year relationship and the birth of my daughters.

South_Tyneside_Electric_train_at_Newcastle_Central,_1938,_geograph-4869768-by-Walter-Dendy,-deceased
The old coast train before the modern metro system

There are moments in our lives when we are blissfully unaware that we stand on a threshold of something new and exciting. 

However, even in those days I wrote poetry but I never shared it with anyone, it was a secret I kept to myself. Geordie boys don’t write poetry especially those who can not spell the words they create. In those far off days dyslexia was a word that had not been invented and instead my teachers told me I was stupid and lazy and if I put the effort in then I wouldn’t have a problem. 

It would be many years later when I got a PC and learn’t how to use a software package called WordPerfect with its spell checker that I would finally get the confidence to put those words down on paper and it would be years after that before I had the courage to stand up for the first time on a Sunday night in a smokey bar in Newcastle and speak my words out loud.

Train of thought

 

Wet behind the ears and full of bullshit and speed

In a sweaty basement we bid farewell to the sixties

My mind was on breasts, mini skirts and flirting

Of kissing girls with dark blue eyes and chalk white skin

Always wondering if they would let me in

On an early morning train as the decade turned

We took the party back with us to the clink of beer bottles

The rattle of the rail lines and laughter of the revellers

We sang and danced through the sleepy suburbs

With promises and kisses as we stopped at each station

My school days left behind me leaving only weeping wounds

From words that were spat back at me by disappointed teachers

My poetry always better in my head than on unforgiving paper  

That night I never thought that Geordie boys could dream

Of poetry books and spoken words on international stages

Declaiming In cafes, boozy bars, theatres and urban classrooms

I locked my muddled stories and poems away from the world

It would take me thirty years to find the key

© Jeff Price October 2017