Norman

Lambchop “Soaky in the Pooper”

This strange and melancholic song tells the tale of a man dying alone in a toilet and wasjukebox requested on the Poetry JukeBox by crime writer, poet and retired turkey inseminator Alfie Crow. In Alfie’s email he said ” It contains a line about a man’s funeral that ‘all the mourners travelled in one car...” A terribly sad song about a lonely death can be achingly beautiful at the same time.

lambchopLambchop, originally Posterchild, is an American band from Nashville. Never a band with a core lineup, Lambchop has consisted of a large and fluid collective of musicians focused around its creative centre, frontman Kurt Wagner. 

The song reminded me of a guy I knew years ago who was one of the “cool” people of Newcastle but heroin addiction cut his life short and he died a pauper’s death. Although in his last few years he had few friends, there was a large turnout for his funeral. He was not the first and would not be the last to have his life cut short by heroin and to die a lonely death like Soaky.

 

Norman

 

You were always the cool one

With your long black coat and dark hair

You were debonair

With a flare for the outrageous

And a penchant for dangerous drugs

 

“Norman” is not the coolest name

But you gave it mystery

You were dismissive and disdainful

Of those too eager to please

Indulgent and generous to those

Who you considered a friend

 

Years later someone said they saw

You begging on the High Street

Asking strangers for change

Your hair grey and dirty

Your good looks stolen

 

When they buried you

The man from the homeless shelter

Said he was surprised

That so many people turned up

“Usually” he said with a puzzled look

“The mourners come in one car”

 

© Jeff Price August 2018

 

The Tally Man

Silver Thunderbird by Marc Cohn

This wonderful song by Marc Cohn brings back lots of memories of my Father. Although his car was not a Silver Thunderbird but a Standard Vanguard, it was his pride and joy.

Standard_Vanguard_-_NOX_569_at_Armley_Mills_2011_-_IMG_2817
Standard Vanguard

He was a hard working man with a very strong sense of family values. The Standard Vanguard belonged to a time when we as a family were doing well but hard times were to come. My Dad was an agent for a woman’s clothing firm, he had a special designed Van to take to

Morris-Minor-Gown-Van
The Gown Van was like this one but painted without writing on the side.

his clients as well as a car and we lived in a nice semidetached house. When I was 11 one of his major customers went bust owing him lots of money and leaving him in debt to suppliers. He had to close the business and eventually sell the house to pay off his creditors. After that, he had a succession of jobs with periods of unemployment in between

One of the less appealing jobs he had later in life was as a “Tally Man”. He worked for a loan company in Newcastle and his job was to go door to door and collect the weekly payments from the customers.

I remember one Christmas Eve he was leaving the house and I asked him were he was going and he told me he was going to collect the weekly payments. “But, its Christmas!” I said. He told me that if he didn’t collect the payments this week then they would owe double next week and the firm would add extra interest and it was best for the customers to pay now and that he was doing them a favour. In this piece I imagined what happened next.

The Tally Man calls

Even on a good day, kids would be sent to shout through the letter box “Me Mam’s out” but no one expected him to call on Christmas Eve. So, Ada Johnson didn’t think twice about flinging the door open and saying “Merry Christmas” actually she never got further than the “Merry”. Then a “What the fuck are you doing here?”

Before her stood a slight figure of a man dressed in a brown suit. His hair thin and pressed close to his scalp with Brylcream. Out of a briefcase he pulled a small leather ledger.

“It’s a Wednesday, Mrs Johnson and I always call on a Wednesday, and sometimes on a Thursday if you are not in and then a Friday and a Saturday until your payment has been made.”

“But it’s Christmas Eve” she protested.

“It’s a Wednesday, I collect on a Wednesday, there are no exceptions for holidays. If I don’t collect this week it will mean you owe twice as much next week and then extra interest will be added and you will end up paying more. I’m doing you a favour by coming today.”

Mrs Johnson was stunned none of the other collectors had called this week, she went back into the house and got her purse.

“Here, you heartless bastard.” She thrust her last few poundnotes into his hand.

“Thanks Mrs Johnson I’ll see you next week, Merry Christmas”

©Jeff Price April 2017

Third Time Around

Scouting for Girls “She’s so Lovely”scouting for girls

I can not listen to this track without remembering the day I went to a friend’s wedding which took place in St Mary’s lighthouse in Whitley Bay and as Kate walked down the aisle my friend Simma sang this song.

 

kate fox
Kate Fox

I like a good wedding. It is at this point I can hear my Brother say something sarcastic like “Is that why you’ve been married so many times?” It does sound bad to say you have been married three times but in reality, the first time was a brief mistake of a teenager.
The second marriage lasted a long time and I am still with and very much in love with the third Mrs Price. We have been together now for nearly twenty years. I have two daughters from my second marriage and Lynda has three daughters. Our five daughters consider each other as sisters and Lynda’s daughters call me Dad.
We are a slightly dysfunctional but happy family.

Third time Around

Love for us was autumnal
A late flowering
We were retrospective lovers
Caught up in new beginnings
Scarred but not cynical
Scared and a little cautious
At times like excited teenagers
Rediscovering our emotions
Learning how to trust again

© Jeff Price June 2018

Big Issue

Stranglers “No More Heroes”

It was 1977 when I saw The Stranglers at the City Hall in Newcastle. I remember the

The-stranglers

electrifying power of the band and the fact that so few people could create so much noise was amazing. We were right up in the Gods but I felt pinned against the wall, the bass line hammering into my chest.
Like a lot of the punk bands at the time there seemed little separation between them and the fans. In fact by the end of the gig the stage was full of pogoing fans.
The theme of the song was something I disagreed with. There were heroes, people like Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner and Trade Union leaders like Arthur Scargill plus a little known back bench MP who always seemed to stand up for the marginalised and the oppressed called Jeremy Corbyn (I wonder what happened to him?).
I had also been very involved in supporting the Miners and I had seen the militarisation of the police and the impact that the Tory policies were having on the mining communities. Whilst the Police and the Government did everything they could to defeat the Miners other groups in society came to their support. Ordinary people all over the country gave magnificent support to the Miners in whatever way they could. I remember one Christmas being told by the local Miners Wives Support Group that they didn’t know what to do with all the turkeys they had been given. Sadly they were badly let down by their political leaders who had the chance to back the miners but did not.
Over the last couple of weeks I have been seething with anger about the Home Office treatment of the “Windrush Generation” and I can guarantee that behind the words nothing will change, they are metering the same hard faced treatment to migrants they have been heaping on the unemployed, low paid and the disabled. Their selfishness and greed has no limits and I despair when I see this crippled and broken world we are leaving to our children. If there ever was a time for the heroes to rise up it is now.
My poem this week is one person’s story. I think a big part of the problem is instead of many people seeing problems as statistics i.e too many immigrants, too many unemployed etc. What they need to do is see the person. Many people wanted the government to clamp down on immigrants and the government felt they had the authority to create a hostile environment but when they saw the reality of the damage it has done to peoples lives they are disgusted. See the person, see their problems and ask what we can do to help rather than how do we make the problem go away.

Big Issue

Homeless and rootless
Underclassed and underfed
No permanent address
No crib for a bed

An obstacle between her Father
And his latest girlfriend
Running out of floor space
Going round the bend

No address, no job
No work, no home
No matter, not important
Invisible and alone

Running out of food
Hope and self worth
A government statistic
An accident of birth

© Jeff Price April 2018

The Matrix

Wheatus “Teenage Dirtbag”

This is a song for the outsiders, for the teenagers who are not sporty or a teacher’s pet. Like many of my chosen songs it has a story arc. It is the video as much as the song that sparked the memory recounted here.

In my teenage years there was a religious divide in the West End of Newcastle based around Catholic versus Protestant. Today the tapestry of divisions and misunderstandings is far more complex. Fear of the  “other”, those different to ourselves, led many people to vote for Brexit. Demanding that the “other” be stopped, curbed or banished.
wheatus

When I was growing up in the West-End of Newcastle in the fifties and early sixties I was part of a Catholic community that had its roots in Ireland. We had educational segregation and I was taught by nuns in my primary school and priests in the high school (not all teachers were priests and nuns but they dominated the management and culture of the school).

Our high schools were also divided so that girls went to one school and boys to another. This meant that we boys had little social interaction with girls and non Catholics. Non Catholics largely meant Protestant as at that time there were very few other alternative communities in Newcastle

The Brighton Cinema now a bowling Alley
The Brighton Cinema now a Bowling Alley

Our main opportunity to meet girls was either at the church youth club which meant the steely eyes of the priests would be watching you and if necessary report back to your parents, or there were the two cinemas.

The Plaza and the Brighton Cinema sat on opposite sides of the West Road.  To avoid clashes between the Catholic and Protestant youth there was an unofficial peace line along the West Road and we went to the Plaza on the north side and they went to the Brighton on the south. In 1960 the Plaza closed and this led to a few problems but in 1963 the Brighton changed from a cinema into a bowling alley and that’s when things turned ugly.plaza

After a number of minor clashes including me getting beaten up in the toilets of the bowling alley, a big confrontation took place in a local park. Looking back it seemed like hundreds were involved but it was probably no more than thirty or forty.

I remember there was a lot of posturing and shouting but very few actual clashes but the fighting that did take place was vicious. Later, we got together with our rivals and worked out a deal where we could each use the Brighton Bowling Alley on different nights.

Today there is a lot of talk about gang culture. In the sixties you felt being part of a gang or being seen as part of a community afforded you some protection. The reality was being in a gang lead to more trouble not less and not just with rival gang members but also with the Police.

It did however, teach me a valuable life lesson. Violence only brings more violence and rarely solves anything. By negotiating we found a solution and if we had done it before I would have saved myself a swollen jaw and a few loose teeth.

This weeks poem is about one of my daughters when she was a teenager.

The Matrix

 

In the living room four teenage girls talk

Conducting a complex matrix of interwoven conversations

In the corner of the room the television demands attention

I ask them politely to turn down the volume

My daughter tells me they would miss a favourite TV program

I suggest that watching a television is impossible

When they are all talking at once

My daughter informs me that woman can do this

Easily

I know better than to quibble with her

You can not argue with an article of faith

It forms part of her feminist catechism

Passed down from Mother to Daughter

Since the nineteen eighties

I retreat to the bathroom and wallow in the warm water

Turning up the radio to drown out the sound of the voices in my head

 

© Jeff Price April 2018

 

They Affirm

Peter Sarstedt “Where Do You Go To My Lovely”

Listen to the words of this song, they are extraordinary. It is a story, a poem and a song all in

peter

one. It tells the tale of two people brought up in similar circumstances whose lives turn out very differently. There has been much speculation about who the song was written about and was thought by many to be about Sophia Loren, an actress who was brought up in Naples but Peter always said that this was not the case and he had no one in particular in mind although he had based part of the lyrics on his then girlfriend Anita.
The song owes much of its style to the music of Jacques Brel and it sounds very french (I know Brel was born in Belgium but it still sounds french to me). Peter Sarstedt was born in India but moved to the UK with his parents in 1954.
The lyrics reminds me that fame and fortune do not always bring happiness. A theory poets rarely get to put to the test. Peter died in January of this year aged 75.

I remember the back streets of Naples
Two children begging in rags
Both touched with a burning ambition
To shake off their lowly-borne tags, they try

When people talk about immigration they seem to forget the circumstances that force people to make a new life in a different country. A few years ago I went along to a citizenship celebration at Newcastle Civic Centre. I watched as people from many different cultures and countries declared that they were now British citizens by reading out a declaration of citizenship. It was a very moving experience.
Afterwards, I talked to a few of the new citizens and their stories were as diverse as they were amazing. It seemed to me that these people represented a very positive addition to our country and by welcoming them we enriched not only their lives but ours as well.

They Affirm

From the four corners of the globe they come

Dodging the assassin’s bullet

The dark despair of the political dungeon

Gnawing hunger rising like dust from a parched field

For others, it is new opportunities

Wrought from hard won qualifications

The freedom to hold a partner’s hand in public

To open doors rather than have them slammed in their faces

They affirm that right with a firm handshake

They answer with a grin that begins within

And spreads across their faces

Like a summer sunrise

©Jeff Price March 2018

Daggers Drawn

Dixie Chicks: Travelin’ Soldier

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

dixie-chicks-1999-billboard-1548.jpg 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

eickhorn-luftwaffe-dagger-a.jpg

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.

Daggers Drawn

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

© Jeff Price February 2018

Slipping in the Sun

Paolo Nutini “Candy”

A beautiful love song from Paolo. It has a wonderful poetic quality which I like and also paolo nutinihis voice lends an extra dimension to the song. When I first heard it I assumed he was much older and was surprised when I saw a picture of him for the first time.

I found this article Link from a fan site. There is much debate about the lyrics, Paolo gives two explanations, one was he wrote the song after an argument with his girlfriend and having realised he was in the wrong, wrote the song as an apology.  The second is much darker.

Here is a clip from the article.

It followed a meeting between Paolo and one of his all-time music heroes, US singer-songwriter Rodriguez. Paolo explains: “When we were teenagers, me and one of my friends would listen to him constantly.

“His stuff was very overlooked, we didn’t know where he was or whether he was alive or dead. But when I played in Detroit, his hometown, he came to see me and we did his song Sugar Man together.

“After the show he gave me a DVD of the film Candy, which features Sugar Man on the soundtrack.

“It stars Heath Ledger as a heroin addict. It’s quite a desperate tale about his addiction, very dark but somehow very beautiful and moving too. Watching it got me thinking about the way that love can be an addiction too. You get hooked on somebody so much that, even when you’re away from home – or on tour – something keeps that person at the forefront of your mind.

“The night I wrote the song, I called my girlfriend and I was about to tell her about the film and what it had meant to me when she told me the news that Heath Ledger had just died, [22 Jan 2008] apparently from an overdose. It was a weird coincidence. Very uncanny.”

It reminds me that when you write something, the reader can put their own spin on the words. People tell me things they have read into my poems that I never intended. We all see what we see depending on our point of view. To slightly misquote Paul Simon “A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest”. I have sat down with my daughters and discussed some incident from the past and other than the names of the people involved nothing else can be agreed on (even the names can sometimes be in contention).

One incident springs to mind. We were on holiday when the girls were small, in a little fishing village in Spain. We were crossing a seaweed covered concrete slipway that was used by the fishing boats to enter the harbour.  My oldest daughter slipped and fell. The water was only inches deep but as she fell she saw a small shoal of fish that scattered as she entered the water. I  grabbed her hand and immediately pulled her up, she suffered no more damage than a wet sun dress. Now, over thirty years later she still claims she has a fear of fish after being attacked after I pushed her into the sea.

 

Slipping in the Sun

Along the harbour tattered bunting sways in a soft Mediterranean breeze

Sun shines indiscriminately on holiday makers and fisherman alike

The harbour slipway is festooned in bladderwrack seaweed and dark green algae

An incoming tide has turned the concrete into a greased water-slide

She is four years old and as bold and brave as a firefighter

Striding along mesmerised by the garish colours of the harbour cafes

She steps onto the slipway and slips into the inch deep water

In an instant I grab her arm lifting her up as a dozen silvery fish scatter

 

Years later she recounts the story of how I pushed her into the harbour

To be attacked by hundreds of hungry man eating fish

She claims she has a fish phobia because of my negligent parenting

I recall how on our way back to the hotel I gave her my t-shirt

To replace the soggy slime covered summer dress she was wearing

I remember thinking how beautiful she was even in a purple man size top  

 

©    Jeff Price February 2018