jingle jingle!

jingle jingle!



photo: katrina porteous

Sensational Rock,
swimming in light.
Bird cries clinging to ancient ledges,
Kittiwakes smashing against time.
What tales you could tell.

Your face is so moody,
flickers with breezes,
crumbles in a hot afternoon.

Climbing your powdery steps,
we look down on the sea
thrashing at you.

We join a choir of birds at your peak,
cry out to the sky
in good spirits.

Nesting for the sake of it,
our lyrics are remnants on the shore.

We keep chipping away,
do we not?

We slip
through the pebbles,
with babies.

We leave our mark,
a grain
on the ancient landscape.

We go.

We dance like the sunlight
on your scarred body:







(in honour of Adrian Mitchell)

Drank too much of Goodnight Vienna,
fell from the top of a lighthouse.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Took the knickers off a Polish maid,
ended up facedown in The End of the World.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Turned up drunk for my poetry class,
ended up cockeyed in the Corner House.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Heckled Uncle Tom on the saxophone,
felt the tits of a lesbian.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Laughed at the straight man
and slashed on a comic.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Twanged the suspenders of an actress,
kissed the hard nipples of a Sunderland girl.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Stood to attention at a sit-in,
sat on the face of a stand-up.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Jumped off the bridge at a Coronation,
swam in a river of whisky.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Swore blind at a military policeman,
shot poems in the back of a priest.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Danced on the table at a Chinese,
acted myself on a train.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Rolled in the hay with the lass next door,
flew in the face of reality.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Balanced my shoes on my head,
threw my socks at the band.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Stole the case of a businessman,
fell asleep in a play.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Dreamt all day,
and wrote all night.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Woke up in the arms of an orangutan,
leapt from a bar on the top of a mountain.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Split my lip in a Durham gutter,
got fixed up with an NHS stutter.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Got pissed with a physiotherapist,
let her fingers ease the pain in my head.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Took a tumble in a fall of rain,
saw all my words pour down the drain.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Slagged off another man’s trousers,
got called a rabble rouser.
Well I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Refused to join the Socialist Party,
hurled a Trot from the upstairs room.
Stuck the nut on the shower door,
washed myself in my own blood.
Wel I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Ended up in a padded cell,
read my poems in East Berlin.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.
Drank the City of Edinburgh dry,
scoffed the whole of your Humble Pie.
Well, I’m sorry about that,
I’m sorry about that.





Cees Nooteboom, a leading Dutch literary light, wrote a novel translated as ‘In the Dutch Mountains’. I heard that some culture vulture sought a copy in a bookshop over here and was directed by the assistant to the TRAVEL SECTION!
I’ve travelled a lot all over The Netherlands, sometimes with the help of awards from Northern Arts/Arts Council and The British Council, and there have been times, trundling over the endlessly flat polder landscape, that I’ve been just gagging for a mountain or two.
Flat', you might say, but not uninteresting if you've got an eye for detail - and that applies to the cultural scene as well as the landscape.
From the hectically cosmopolitan and fast talking Amsterdam to the windswept northern city of Groningen to the carnival atmosphere of Den Bosch in the south, I’ve travelled with poetry in my pocket to give a series of readings and to network madly with mad Dutch poets.
I’ve crashed down in a squat in the former Dutch Foreign Office in The Hague and read there in the basement of the ex-Intelligence Ministry. I’ve performed at three in the morning in the Cuckoo Club in Groningen where, in a sparse yet merry audience, an old hippie glared at me from a murky corner with a hamster in a cage on his knee. I’ve read in a Circus tent in Rotterdam on a Sunday afternoon accompanied by my folk-roots mates ‘The Whisky Priests’, a doped rhino eyeing us suspiciously from its cage as we unloaded our gear.
And then there was the night in Den Helder in a pub so full of drunks that even my Northumbrian Piper was heckled. That same trip, I shared the balcony of a bar with a large stuffed swan, bellowing out my poetry to the punters down below like a demented seagull. Oh and then there was the Beer Museum in Breda, crammed to the rafters with wild and drunken Brabantians on a barmy Sunday afternoon. They roared during the set by ‘The Whisky Priests’ and they roared during my poetry too, so much so that I lost my voice and had to collect it from behind the bar later.
And then there was Utrecht where I had my jacket stolen in a cafe before the gig, passport, bank card, air ticket, glasses, and all. After a visit to the Police Station, it was down to the venue where, after borrowing some reading glasses from a member of the audience, I took the stage in fighting form. The show must go on!
In Newcastle’s twin city of Groningen, a place I’ve come to love after 20 visits or so, I performed at the Werkman College at a poetry breakfast, part of Dutch National Poetry Day, and I can recall, one wet and windy day, bumping into a pack of Frisian farmers drunk as rats. ‘And what do you do?’ bawled one in my left ear. ‘I’m a poet!’ ‘A poet!’, he mocked, ‘we milk cows!’, demonstrating, graphically, with his fingers the milking technique. Must get myself a real job I thought.
There’s a marked difference between north and south. There are carnivals down south in a warm and Catholic spirit. North seems bleaker, even gloomy, though Groningen keeps going all night, as I know to my cost. But try the Den Bosch Carnival in February, which I’ve only just returned from, and you’ll see how crazy The Netherlands can be. The symbol of Den Bosch, just over the border from Belgium, is, of course, the frog. So watch out for mobs of blokes in green tights belting out ‘When the Saints’ on their trombones. Not surprising, therefore, that it’s the home town of the legendary Hieronymus Bosch whose statue peers down on the leaping Carnival revellers, including myself.
And as for Amsterdam, well all of life is there, the nether regions bared for all to see. One Groningen city poet told me that ‘they should bomb Amsterdam!’ Now that’s real national rivalry for you! Yet to me it has a magic - just stay a few times on a Prinsensgracht canal boat or in a mice-ridden tiny-staircased flat or in the dowdy Hotel Utopia reeking of dope, as I have done, and you’ll know what I mean. Or take a jar or two at my Amsterdam local ‘The Karpershoek’, across the street from the throbbing Central Station, and you’ll mix with typical moustached Amsterdammers and Ajax fans, as well as New York cops on holiday rubbing truncheons with re-invading German tourists, guys from Bolton in search of cheap viagra, artists chewing the latest postmodernist cud, sweaty bricklayers, and sweaty social workers - well, and the odd crazy poet too.
So you can sense that my study of Dutch culture has been pretty thorough and, of course, ongoing, with plans for me to be back there for more readings. But it’s not one way traffic - poets and musicians from Groningen have performed in Newcastle and Groningen official city poets have visited here for readings and meetings with Newcastle’s Lord Mayor, as have teachers from the Dutch city's Werkman College. Well, it’s what twinning’s all about, isn’t it?!

Extracts from poems:

I was flown by a Dutchman through a Starry Sky
across the polluted Sea.
I  was twinning in a different land
with a song book in my hand.

The train tore across the frozen dykes
as the old town swarmed with bikes
and I thought of Vincent scraping spuds
and Rembrandt spitting blood.

This dark Carnival of frogs and trombones,
leaps from the graves of beggars and cripples;
this dualist fantasy,
this Oeteldonk nightmare,
where even the sewer rats dance
and the River Dieze drinks to high heaven.

I once saw a man who looked like you,
staring at me like a hag of a gargoyle
at the bar of the Bonte Palet.
He was a dribbling grotesque,
the kind you find among the monsters and workmen astride St. Jan’s.
A member, no doubt, of Our Lady’s Brotherhood,
he lived in a dream world,
a glutton for punishment,
ogling a lusty Brabant girl
with his popping, panting, eyes.
He was throwing genevers down his throbbing canal,
drinking at the confluence of Dommel and Aa;
he had brown paint on his hands so I knew it was you,
Master of Alla Prima.

You feed off tourists
on floodlit transparencies
broken by rippling houseboats.
You stay drifting in memories of the Indies;
a small piece of momentary beauty,
prettier than Amsterdam,
more shapely than Holland;
a true Swan
of the World.

In the Hotel Utopia,
we’re as happy as mortal sin.
You can hear an old man crying
through the City din.

There’s a tap that’s always dripping,
and walls that are paper-thin,
and, in this Hotel Utopia,
we’re really dreaming.





Around the low water mark,
kelp beds grow.
Network of rockpools,
boulder shore.

Long-legged bar-tailed godwit,
at finding
mud and sand-living worms.

Seabed of rocky reefs,
shipwrecks dived within and around.
Wrasse and lumpsucker.
Seashore Code.

Remembered rambles,
geology jaunts.
Soft coral communities.
Relic dunes.




A St. Mary’s Light
with rage.
A three ton lens,
on a trough of mercury,
kept revolving,
round the gas mantle,
by a simple pendulum
wound up
on the hour.
A climb
up 137 steps,
inside the 120 foot tower,
a hiss of flame,
of a prism
Since medieval times,
across the ocean fields,
this beacon
has burned,
on the drink.
Years sailed by,
of shipwrecks,
of Russian soldiers
in 1799,
of the ‘Gothenburg City’
and rats with chewed tails.
These heartbreaking waves,
the illumination
of shafts of history:
the rays
and days
of a shining Empire



"I’ve come to devour your mouth
and dry you off by the hair
into the seashells of daybreak."
(Federico Garcia Lorca)

In the rotunda,
your voice lashes out at war.
on the crests of the girls,
streaming up the Esplanade.
scream under a parasol of gulls,
skimming through the fairground,
on a mission to strangle
flying fish.
Haunting poetry
in the dead ghost train,
the palms of the fortune-tellers,

Lorca in a broken-down ghost town,
scattering your petals:
Garcia up against the wall
of last night,
eyes shot;
blood from the evening sky,
dripping down an ice cream cone,
down a sweet lass’s blouse.

Saw you on the Metro, Federico,
saw you in Woolworth’s.
Saw you in the crematorium,
on Feather’s caravan site.
Saw you drown
in a sea of lyrical beauty.

like Community,
you are gone;
torn into coastal shreds.

Still shells
lips on the beach
for kissing again
for the re-launch
of childish dreams,                                                            

with candy floss
and cuckoo spit.

The Spanish City, Whitley Bay.


The days have gone;
the laughter and shrieks
blown away.
We have all grown up,
left old Catalonian dreams
and the blazing seaside bullfights.
We are dazed,
phased out.
Spaces where we courted
to make way
for the tack of tomorrow;
the hope in the sea breeze;
the distant echo of castanets
and voices scraping
in a dusty rotunda.
I remember where I kissed you,
where I lost you.
It was in Spain, wasn’t it?
Or was it down the Esplanade
on a wet Sunday in July?
Either way,
we are still
twinned with sunny Whitley Bay,
and flaming Barcelona too;
and our lives
will dance in fading photographs
from the pleasure dome,
whenever we leave home.






poor avenues
life rich

warm glow
hope springs

pit broken
grass grows
blink bonny

clocks alarm
wake joy in us
buses sweep past

at morn
buried dreams
night sings

town in winter
frosty coats
hearts melt

come the day
me hinny
love speaks

the streets glow
in my memory
golden times

this is
my home
your honour

badges in dust
in my chest

our children
heal wounds

my love
black and white


my eyes

my heart
ash town

yer bugs
i’m drowning
in kisses


with my eyes

wor jackie

doon that hole

this is my place
no place
for rats

turn pages
seek liberty
in ancient books

wor lass

bring me sunshine
the back lanes

kicking a ball
the walls





sing of my home city
sing of a true geordie heart
sing of a river swell in me
sing of a sea of the canny
sing of the newcastle day

sing of a history of poetry
sing of the pudding chare rain
sing of the puddles and clarts
sing of the bodies of sailors
sing of the golden sea

sing of our childrens’ laughter
sing of the boats in our eyes
sing of the bridges in sunshine
sing of the fish in the tyne
sing of the lost yards and the pits

sing of the high level railway
sing of the love in my face
sing of the garths and the castle
sing of the screaming lasses
sing of the sad on the side

sing of the battles’ remains
sing of the walls round our dreams
sing of the scribblers and dribblers
sing of the scratchers of livings
sing of the quayside night
sing of the kicks and the kisses
sing of the strays and the chancers
sing of the swiggers of ale
sing of the hammer of memory
sing of the welders’ revenge

sing of a battered townscape
sing of a song underground
sing of a powerless wasteland
sing of a buried bard
sing of the bones of tom spence

sing of the cocky bastards
sing of a black and white tide
sing of the ferry boat leaving
sing of cathedral bells crying
sing of the tyneside skies

sing of my mother and father
sing of my sister’s kindness
sing of the hope in my stride
sing of a people’s passion
sing of the strength of the wind


(as featured on BBC Radio 4)


A few pints of Deuchars and my spirit is soaring.
The child dances out of me,
goes running down to the Tyne,
while the little man in me wrestles with a lass
and William Blake beams all his innocence in my glass.
And the old experience sweats from a castle’s bricks
as another local prophet takes a jump off the bridge.

It’s the spirit of Pat Foley and the ancient brigade
on the loose down the Quayside stairs
in a futile search,
just a step in the past,
for one last revolutionary song.

All the jars we have supped
in the hope of a change;
all the flirting and courting and chancing downstream;
all the words in the air and the luck pissed away.
It seems we oldies are running back
screaming to the Bewick days,
when a man could down a politicised quip
and craft a civilised chat
before he fed the birds
in the Churchyard.

The cultural ships are fair steaming in
but it’s all stripped of meaning -
the Councillors wade
in the shallow end.

O Blake! buy me a pint in the Bridge again,
let it shiver with sunlight
through all the stained windows,
make my wit sparkle
and my knees buckle.

Set me free of this stifling age
when the bland are back in charge.
Let us grow our golden hair wild once more
and roar like Tygers
down Dog Leap Stairs.





A city
within a city

light cage

bazaar and blind
these swollen alleys

flow with a teeming life’s blood

Geordie  !

Swim for your life  !


this is life
the gloss and the flesh
weigh-house of passion and flame

you can get lost in this market’s amazement
but you can never lose yourself

a sleep-walk in these grazing crowds
can feel like a stroll through your brain


bred in a market arch
a struggle
in a city’s armpit
that flower
in your time-rough hand’s
a beautiful girl in a slum alley
all that kindness in your face
and you’re right
the time are not what they were
this England’s not what it was
flowers shrink in the crumbling vase
dusk creeps in on a cart
and Maud the sun is choking
Maud this island’s sinking
and all that sleeping sea is
the silent majority
Keith Armstrong



Grey –
this man and his brain’s conception,
clasped in stone.
Disdainful figure
on a firm dry finger;
above a time-bent avenue of dwindling lights.

The Earl’s pale forehead is cool and cloudy;
he views us all (as we view him)
in the same old, cold, way –
through the wrong end of a battered telescope,
through the dusty lens of history.

Strip away the tinsel
and this city’s heart is stone.

Keith Armstrong


Black Gate,
an oxter of history,
reaches for me
with a stubby finger,
invites me into Old Newcastle,
its vital cast
of craggy characters,
Garth urchins,
dancing blades
and reeling lasses.
Black Gate,
I can read
the lines
on your brow,
the very grit
on your timelined walls,
the furrowed path
down the Geordie lane
where Alexander Stephenson stoops
to let me in
and the merchant Patrick Black
still trades in memories.
there was a tavern
inside you,
that’s why
the bricks cackle
and the windows creak
with the crack of old ale
and the redundant patter
of publican John Pickell.
Black Gate,
you could say
my childhood is in your stones,
my mother and father figures,
my river
of drifting years,
waiting to greet me.
Hoist up your drawbridge,
in the startling chill
of a Tyne dawn,
this boy is with you
and with himself
in this home city
of old bones,
new blood
and dripping dreams.


*The Black Gate is named after the seventeenth century merchant Patrick Black.


this history by the river.
the stairway to the past.
the memories singing folk songs.
the cobbles wet with blood.
those ballads down the centuries.
the ancient voices in your head.
these stones alive with music.
the wind howling in the brick.
the days that speed our lives.
the rails to guide you there.
the people that you meet.
the children's faces dancing.
the devil in your fleeting eyes.
the bridges multiplying.
the moon upon the Tyne.
the flag of lovers flying.
your feet still
Geordie hinny.




The sun on Danby Gardens
smells of roast beef,
tastes of my youth.
The flying cinders of a steam train
spark in my dreams.
Across the old field,
a miner breaks his back
and lovers roll in the ditches,
off beaten tracks.
Off Bigges Main,
my grandad taps his stick,
reaches for the braille of long-dead strikes.
The nights
fair draw in
and I recall Joyce Esthella Antoinette Giles
and her legs that reached for miles,
tripping over the stiles
in red high heels.
It was her and blonde Annie Walker
who took me in the stacks
and taught me how to read
the signs
that led inside their thighs.
Those Ravenswood girls
would dance into your life
and dance though all the snow drops
of those freezing winters,
in the playground of young scars.
And I remember freckled Pete
who taught me Jazz,
who pointed me to Charlie Parker
and the edgy bitterness of Brown Ale.
Mrs Todd next door
was forever sweeping
leaves along the garden path
her fallen husband loved to tread.
Such days:
the smoke of A4 Pacifics in the aftermath of war,
the trail of local history on the birthmarked street.
And I have loved you all my life
and will no doubt die in Danby Gardens
where all my poems were born,
just after midnight.





(for Peter Common & Dan Pinnock)

'But the thing I saw in your face
No power can disinherit:
No bomb that ever burst
Shatters the crystal spirit.' (George Orwell).

I stood at your door,
knocked in the English sunshine,
bowed to greet you
but could not hear
the chatter
from your typewriter
or the rain pecking
at the tin roof,
only the plummet of the leaves
brushing against my face
and the birds
falling over the fields.

Thought of you and Jack Common,
shaking hands
in open debate,
patched sleeves
damp on the bar counter,
ploughing through
tracts of history,
eyes on the horizon
looking for War
and bombs
over Datchworth's spire.

This magic morning,
clear sky in our hearts.
No September showers,
only goats bleating,
a horse trotting
down the lane
and, in the day dream,
St Mary's bells
with Eileen asleep
in the clouds.

What should I say?
We are weak.
I know you were awkward
but, like Jack, full of love.
Out of bullets,
flowers may grow;
out of trenches,
The roses
and acorns of thoughts 
you planted
those years ago
in Kits Lane,
nourish us now
in these brief minutes,
from your writing hand
farming for words,
the eggs of essays,
the jam on your fingers.

You were scraping a book together,
smoking the breath 
out of your collapsing lungs,
taking the world
on your creaking bent shoulders,
riding across fields
for friends,
bones aching,
fighting to exist
in the cold breeze.

Still the Simpson's Ale
was good in the Plough,
the old laughter still
flying down this Wallington lane,
with the crackling children 
on an idyllic day.

Enjoy this beauty,
it will turn to pain.
Sing your folk songs,
dig your garden,
dance in your brain.
Graft and graft
until all the breath is gone.
Leave a brave mark
in the dust
round Animal Farm.

What a good thing
to be alive
where songbirds soar
and daffodils nod.
Over the slaughter
of motorways,
we are following 
your large footprints
into this bright countryside
where good people
adopt another's children
and still 
fall in love 
with England.


Written after visiting Orwell’s cottage in Wallington, Hertfordshire, where he lived with Eileen O’Shaughnessy and which was looked after for him in 1938 by fellow writer Jack Common.

'The more I read ‘Wallington Morning’ the more I like it.  Very well done, an extremely clever and well written poem!' (Peter Common, son of Jack)

'I love this! Very emotive! Draws pictures in my brain and melts my heart. Thank you.' (Denise Byrne, daughter of Peter).

the jingling geordie

My photo
whitley bay, tyne and wear, United Kingdom
poet and raconteur