It’s here at last. It’s my 70th Birthday today (27th November 2018)
This is my little birthday present to all of you who have been following my Blog over the last 18 months. It’s a little video of the last of the 70 poems I wrote for my Blog. It won’t win any Palme D’Or awards but I did make it myself with just the help of a laptop, I hope you enjoy it? The poem is seventy things I am grateful for, some are serious and some frivolous and some only really mean something to me but it’s my birthday and I want to indulge myself. The poem is based on Ian Dury and The Blockheads “Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3” and features a clip from the track at the beginning and then a rather clumsy edit to the poem.
According to the Bible I have now had my allotted three score and ten years, which means the next how many years I have left are all bonus years and I intend to go on living them with as much hope and joy as I can.
Keep sending in your requests for the Poetry JukeBox, it has been fun doing them.
This is a track of its time. I have sometimes thought James is a little too “middle of the Road” for my taste but this track means a lot. Like me James Taylor is in his 70th year and is one of the best selling
folk singers of all time selling over 100 million records. He is a prolific songwriter but I have chosen this track which was written by Carole King. King said the song was inspired by James Taylor song “Fire and Rain” which contains the line “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend”
The track reminds me of all the good friends I have made over the years and also of those I have lost, some because they died or those friends who drifted away because their lives changed or mine did. Yesterday I went to a hospital to collect a friend whose husband is terminally ill. She cannot drive and relies on others to give her lifts. She says she has been cheered by those who have stepped up and supported her and saddened by those who did not. There have been times in my life when friends have stepped up for me. When the first Mrs Price left I was devastated but also amazed at the small acts of kindness that meant so much. The friend who came around with some food and a bottle of wine and listened while I wittered on about how sorry I was for myself. On another occasion, after my second marriage broke up, a random woman in a pub chatted me up and although it came to nothing and was no more than a flirtatious few moments, I remember even today how I felt as I walked home with a smile on my face for the first time in ages. She will have no memory of it and doesn’t know that all those years ago she gave back hope to a broken-hearted stranger. There are friends who you don’t see too often but when you do the years just seem to fall away. There are those who, although they are gone, you still remember with love and affection and one in particular who still visits me in my dreams.
My poem this week is about the spaces left by absent friends.
The Unexpected Chime
They’re are shared secrets in my house Talk of things that have passed and of things that are to come
They’re are empty wine bottles in my house Crushed cans of Bavarian Beer and discarded pieces of chocolate wrappers
They’re is music in my house From bands who broke up years ago and singers who sing no more
They’re are empty places in my house Stacked with silent dining table chairs and food strewn plates and stained coffee cups
They’re is poetry in my house In books that line a bedroom wall Signed by poets who write no more
They’re is hope in my house From half forgotten small acts of kindness and the unexpected chime of a doorbell
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five: The Message
This song is from 1982 and is widely acknowledge as the first Hip Hop song to make it into the charts (or the first Hip Hop song). This video is a bit dated but worth a watch. The lyrics are amazing: Rats in the front room, roaches in the back Junkies in the alley with the baseball bat I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car
Despite the fact this record was released thirty five years ago nothing much seemed to have changed for people of colour in the USA. The Black Lives Matter campaign has highlighted the fact that police seemed to have a shoot first ask questions later policy for black people.
A disproportionate number of young black men end up in prison and the number of black homeless people is now estimated at 500,000. African Americans are only 12.6 percent of the country’s population and yet account for more than 40 percent of its homeless population.
My poem this week is about a teenager called Napoleon Beazley a young black man who
was involved in a car jacking during which a man called John Luttig died. It happened when he was 17 years old and although convicted as a minor he was still executed by lethal injection after spending eight years on death row. Napoleon said at his appeal. “It’s my fault,” Beazley said at a court hearing , at which a judge set his execution date. “I violated the law . . . and I violated a family — all to satisfy my own misguided emotions. I’m sorry. I wish I had a second chance to make up for it, but I don’t. Although Beazley had no final words, he left a written statement in which he accepted responsibility for the crime but opposed capital punishment. “No one wins tonight,” he wrote. “No one gets closure. No one walks victorious.”
The quotes are taken from an article in the Washington Post by Paul Duggan. For the full article click here
This is not to say that Napoleon Beazley should not have been punished or in any way to mitigate what he did but to execute someone is not the answer. I have always opposed the death penalty, it does not make people safer or deter those who would kill. The law rightly acknowledges that murder is a dreadful crime and that it deserves a severe sentence but to kill someone because you believe killing is wrong is nonsensical.
Eight countries in the world allow the execution of young people who have committed a crime when they were age 18 years of less Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China, Yemen, Iraq and USA. Since the USA Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1990 over 1,500 people have been executed.
This poem shot John Luttig during the theft of his car on April 19th 1994 This poem was one of three men involved in the attack This poem admitted that in the instant after it killed Mr Luttig This poem was full of regret at the stupid and pointless waste of a life This poem was seventeen and wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol or cigarettes This poem was old enough for The State of Texas to sentence to death This poem took only a few seconds to kill John Luttig This poem was kept for eight years on death row in a cell 6 x 9 feet This poem admits the killing of John Luttig was a senseless and heinous crime The killing of this poem by the State of Texas was premeditated and in cold blood The State of Texas executed this poem for a crime committed by a child
The story of Edith Piaf’s life is a remarkable one. Her life amongst the poor of Paris, her rise to fame and the way men ruthlessly exploited her. The film “La Vie en Rose” which tells her life story is well worth a watch. You can watch the trailer for the movie by clicking here.
You can not help as you get older thinking of the things you might have done differently or the things you did and regretted later. To say that you regret nothing is to say that you have learnt nothing from life and that would be the biggest mistake of all.
This week’s poem is a look at the things I regret from the past seventy years. Feel free to add your own regrets to the comment section of the blog.
Missing the Beatles first gig in Newcastle in 1963
Getting married to the first Mrs Price in 1967
Going to see Van Morrison at the City Hall in 1983
Not continuing to learn French after I left school
Not havingthe courage to take up a job in London when I was 19
Starting smoking, giving up was easy, I did it hundreds of times
Not going to University until I was 52, I realised what I had missed
Platform shoes, a dodgy moustache, bell bottom hipster jeans and my red leather tie
Playing card games on the computer when I should be writing
Believing that all hippies were honest and wouldn’t rip you off
Not telling my Father that I loved him when I had the chance
Not writing a better poem than this for this week’s blog
What amazing voices these woman have. Their harmonies give me goose bumps. It was a difficult task picking a Dixie Chicks track and in the end it came down to a toss up between this one and ” Goodbye Earl”. Have a listen yourself to the other choice and let me know what you think, link
Travelin’ Soldier was written by Bruce Robinson and released as a single in 1996. It is another of those story songs I love so much. It tells the tale of a young soldier who strikes up a conversation with a young waitress in an american diner and they become pen pals. It is set in the time of the Vietnam war and gives a voice to the ordinary squaddie.
One Friday night at a football game
The Lord’s prayer said and the anthem sang
A man said “Folks would you bow your heads
For a list of local Vietnam dead” …
One name read and nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair
Unless you are some deranged bigot the idea of waging war makes little sense and rarely leads to any resolution, instead it usually increases global tension and creates a generation of embittered and volatile young people who are easy prey to the aforementioned deranged bigots. In the political rhetoric of war the impact on individuals is usually forgotten or simply ignored. When I was very young maybe seven or eight, I found a box in our house and in it were two daggers. They had very intricately engraved blades with ivory handles. At the top of
the handle was a swastika. Along with a few medals it was my Father’s war booty. I remember threatening my little brother with one of the daggers and he held up a rubber hot water bottle to protect himself. Unfortunately it was still full of water which then leaked out all over the bedroom floor. When my Mother saw what had happened she was furious.
The box disappeared and I never saw the daggers again. I presume she told my Dad to get rid of them. After my father, died I couldn’t find his medals but did come across a record of his battalion’s part in the Normandy landings and it’s struggle up through France , Belgium and in to Germany. After every encounter with the retreating enemy was a list of casualties and deaths. Every one a shattered life and a family deprived of a loved one. It was very sobering reading.
Along the dusty road are the scattered uniforms of a fleeing army Soldiers have scoured the homes that lined the road of their retreat Taking jackets, trousers and coats so they can melt into the countryside Gone are the goose steps and lines of raised arms, only chaos remains Their masters have left them hungry, disillusioned and disappointed They sold them the dream of making Germany great again But they were only interested in making their profits great again
When Queen were at the height of their popularity I didn’t like them. I was into punk and blues. I was tired of over produced and lyrically superficial pop songs. Later I began to understand the amazing talent of Freddie Mercury and how innovative the band were. It was Queen with “Bohemian Rhapsody” who pioneered the pop video and blurred the lines between pop and opera. Yes, there were some duff ones in the twenty years of recording and they are still not in my favourite band list but despite Freddie’s death in 1991 the band continue to record and tour.
What I like about this track is the sheer exuberance of it. You can not help but feel invigorated by Freddie’s performance and there are a number of Queen tracks that I defy anyone not to want to get up and dance to.
“Don’t stop me know” makes me realise that life is for living and I just need to get on with it despite the many distractions the world can throw in the way.
On more than one occasion my daughters have enthused about TV programs such as the The Wire, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad and urged me to watch them. This poem is my response.
The Late Adopter
Now that the last series of Breaking Bad has finished
I am urged by my daughter to watch this AmericanTV series
I tell her that the five series totalling fifty two episodes
Each lasting fifty minutes will take forty two hours of my life
I am nearly seventy years old and I don’t think I can commit
It isn’t that I am running on empty, yet
But the tank is definitely a lot less than a quarter full
There are no refills, no top ups and no reserve tank
There is a lot of road left to travel, a lot of sights still to see
A change of pace this week as we celebrate the life and times of Andy Lippincott inspired by the Beach Boys track “Wouldn’t it be nice”.
I am a great fan of Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury cartoon strip. I followed it every day in the Guardian Newspaper, it was something I always looked forward to reading.
Of all the characters Gary Trudeau created the one that touched me the most was Andy Lippincott. This was 1990, a time when the spread of HIV AIDS was beginning its relentless march across the world and the press in the UK was full of homophobic rants and religious fundamentalists were calling it the gay plague. Trudeau’s voice was the voice of compassion and understanding and he helped humanise the victims of this terrible illness.
The strip below is the one I read that morning in 1990 and shows Andy’s last moment as he passes away listening to the Beach Boys track “Wouldn’t it be nice”.
Falling under the wheels
I cried when I opened the Guardian and read about the last moments of your life,
I had followed the last tragic weeks as AIDS overwhelmed you
Even though you fought back, the disease just got stronger
Still you faced it with a stoicism I couldn’t understand.
I would have been angry and railed against the injustice of it all
You quietly passed away listening to the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t it be Nice”.
A lot of real people that I know have died since that day in 1990
Some I expected to lose, like my parents and aged aunties and uncles
Others, I thought too young to die, fell under the wheels of life
Death surprises us even though we know it is as unstoppable as the tide
As unforgiving as a jilted lover and as predictable as a footballer’s glib commentary cliche
Three Score and Ten is taking a festive breather but just in case you feel neglected here is a wonderfully seasonal song from the brilliant Loudon Wainwright III. A big thanks to all the visitors to my blog over the last nine months (nearly 2,000 views from 30 different countries) and a Merry Christmas to you all. Three Score and Ten will be back on Friday 5th January.
To keep you going until then here is a festive poem. It isn’t new, I wrote it many years ago but it is about Christmas and it is funny and I hope you enjoy it. It was written for the Christmas Party at the Dharma Banana in the legendary Fighting Cocks pub in beautiful down town Byker in 1999.
Something very different this week. The Penguin Cafe Orchestra is a band from the 1980/90’s with their own very different Avant-Pop style led by English guitarist Simon Jeffes and cellist Helen Liebmann.
I first came across this band watching the Australian stop animation movie “Mary and Max”. The “based on fact” story is about an unlikely pen-pal friendship between a young Australian girl and a morbidly obese 44-year-old Jewish atheist from New York. It is at times wonderfully funny and a desperately sad film. It is beautifully rendered and well worth a watch. You can see a trailer by clicking here
One of the issues the film deals with is the fact that Max is on the Autistic Spectrum. Mary sees that as a disability and Max sees it as an integral part of his personality and not a disability that needs to be cured. It made me think a lot about difference and how we perceive it in a increasingly segmented society.
We all are individuals with our own distinctive personalities, quirks and idiosyncrasies that makes us who we are. For most it makes little difference to our day to day lives, for others it creates huge problems that can make life almost impossibly difficult.
Making a Spectacle of Yourself
As a child his fat spectacles would frequently slip from his pustulated face
Picked last at school sports with a reputation as the world’s worst goalkeeper
The cock eyed pictures on the pub wall distract him to the point of anger
He makes a mental note to bring a spirit level to the next boys night out
He would prefer a world where beauty was literal and people were honest
Deviousness can catch his ankles and send him crashing to the ground
He takes an eternity to be spontaneous and can quickly prevaricate
He can feel awkward and unsure in the company that he so often craves
Words dance on book pages and the order of their letters often eludes him
But he loves them with a passion it took him years to acknowledge
His world is a one man play were he has many parts, none of them suit him
Yet he is the sum of all of them and an eager apprentice at each one in turn
Say what you like about REM they can craft a good pop song.
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
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”.
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