WORD SHARING!

WORD SHARING!

14.12.17

TRY TO UNDERSTAND ME



Try to understand me,
where I come from, where I’m going;
I’m drifting and I need you
to save my hopes from ruin.

You’ll need to know what splits me,
my need for roots and dreams;
it’s not the earth that hurts me,
it’s the tyrants and their schemes.

My father sailed the world before me,
to Rio and to Spain;
his father taught him shells and ships
and how to smile in pain.

Mother stayed at home and nursed,
came from a quiet place;
she ran the river and the green,
grew strong, with a gentle face.

I split my tongue in the early days,
shook off asthma as I grew,
fell into school and struggled out,
just clutching what I knew.

I was bred for something ‘better’,
for an office on fifth floor,
away from sea spray and stray sheep,
with my name upon the door.

My mother and my father
scraped and saved for me,
bruised each other in the process,
gave up smoking and the sea.

Try to understand me,
why I’ve come back to earth;
it’s because I need to know myself
and the landscape of my birth.



                                                                                

KEITH ARMSTRONG


11.12.17

NEWCASTLE SEQUENCE


FRIENDS OF THE GRAVES (for the Birtley Belgians)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgE9ltf_Az4

























‘Never forget that you are a Birtley Belgian.’
(Ida ‘Anderland’ Dergent)

This is the story of the Birtley Belgians,
the shellers from hell,
the wandering men
and the women they wed.
You can say goodbye to your friends.

These are the remnants of Elisabethville,
the shattered relics of battered soldiers,
the shards of savagery,
the empty shells of discarded folk.

This is what’s left of the carnage,
the last of the war effort,
the smiles of the children
and the severed limbs.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

From Flanders and Wallonia they came
leaving beloved roots behind
to do their bit for the ritual slaughter,
to bring up well their sons and daughters
to dance and sing
under the hails of bullets.

Fishing for sunshine in the Ijzer brook,
kicking stones on the Rue de Charleroi,
the Birtley Belgians
planted their seed on Durham ground
and made do
and made explosive dreams.
What more can we tell?
‘Home is made for coming from,
for dreams of going to
which with any luck
will never come true.’

Sweating in uniform
on assembly lines,
pulverising their brains
to keep the powers that be in power,
they were strong
and at the same time weak
and screamed and cried
like anyone.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

They’re gone now,
blown to dust
in the festering fields,
memories strewn over the way
to fertilise another day
with the same weary mistakes
and thrusts of love.

I can see the boys in the Villa de Bruges
slaking their frustrated fantasies
to drown the horror
and the girls
seductive behind the huts
in between
the grind of daily production.

Let me take you
up the Boulevard Queen Mary,
along the Rue de Louvain,
knock on the door of number D2
and blood will pour
and the ground will open up,
‘mud will take you prisoner’
and devour all those years.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.

You can hear their singing on the North Sea wind,
hear them in Chester le Street and Liege,
the brass band and orchestra
drowning out the distant pounding.
In and out of trouble,
we will always dance.

An accordion wails across the little streets,
the Three Tuns welcomes the living.
And at the crack of dawn
and in the battlefields of evening clouds
we will remember them,
in the words of the Walloon poet Camille Fabry proclaim:
‘Our thoughts fly like arrows back to the land of our birth.’

This is the story of the loss of lives
for causes we scarcely understand
but for love and grandeur too
and for the little Belgian children
and the joyous games they play.
This is the story of the Birtley Belgians.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


The Birtley Belgians emigrated from Belgium to Birtley, County Durham during World War 1 to build an armaments factory and lived in their own specially created village.  
Named after the Queen of the Belgians, Elisabethville itself became Little Belgium - a colony of 6,000 people, of boules and of boulevards.

It had its own hospital, cemetery, school, church, nunnery and Co-op; only Flemish and Walloon were spoken.

The Birtley factory was to the north of the town, British built but entirely Belgian run. By 1916 it gave work to 3,500 men, 85 per cent disabled in some way, with 2,500 family members also housed in the adjacent iron fenced village. 


The poem was commissioned by the Birtley Belgians Euro-Network in 2015 in association with Borsolino and Berline Belgian Drama Groups.



What a good job you've made of it!  Like you, I find these nooks and crannies of the 20th century totally fascinating. (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).

KELSEY GRAMMER AND ME


























 








The man from Buckie
who works with fish
is out of water 
on the flight home from Dublin.
He tells me that I’m the second most famous man 
he’s ever met
after Kelsey Grammer
who he shared a table wIth 
in New York City.
Such airy tales,
how am I to take them?
A very humble poet
flying out of his depth
to the safety of his own bed
after spreading his verse
all over Limerick
and Dublin.
Of course,
If I’d really sought success,
I wouldn’t be here now
in the blue and yellow of Ryanair
needing a can of Magners
to relax in the clouds
that befuddle my eyes
with the accumulated tears
of artistic failure.
I could also take it 
as a compliment
that I am just like Frasier
all of a twitch
in the morning studio,
ready to land abruptly on the scary runway
of my trembling verse,
back in my own Newcastle
and the pitter patter of too many Geordies
too early on the razzle dazzle
in this shit-stained broon ale toon.
So thank you Mr Buckie man
for killing a good hour or so together in the air,
we made each other’s day.
And even if you
were seriously taking the piss,
I still hope you get to sleep,
up to your eyes in bleeding thistles
and dawn cargoes 
of flying fish.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

9.12.17

BLEEDING SKETCHES - DOCTOR ARMSTRONG & THE WHISKY PRIESTS (FROM 1995)!


https://whiskypriests.bandcamp.com/album/bleeding-sketches

WILLIAM BLAKE IN THE BRIDGE HOTEL













































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.

 



KEITH ARMSTRONG

4.12.17

ANGELS PLAYING FOOTBALL












































Some weeks before he died in 1988, the legendary Newcastle United footballer Jackie Milburn was sitting in his Ashington home with a granddaughter on his knee. Outside, there was thunder and lightning, which frightened the wee girl: ‘What’s that noise?’, she asked her grandad anxiously. ‘Don’t worry’, ‘Wor Jackie’ replied, ‘It’s just the angels playing football.’
It was this incident which inspired the following poem, given added poignancy by the placing of an Alan Shearer shirt on the Gateshead Angel’s prodigious back by local fans before the 1998 F.A. Cup Final!



Sprinkle my ashes on St. James’s Park,
Fragments of goals on the grass.
Hear the Gallowgate roar in the dark.
All of my dreams came to pass.

Pass me my memories,
Pass me the days,
Pass me a ball and I’ll play:

Play with the angels,
Play on their wings,
Play in the thunder and lightning.

I leave you these goals in my will,
Snapshots of me on the run.
I leave you these pieces of skill,
Moments of me in the sun.

Pass me my memories,
Pass me the days,
Pass me a ball and I’ll play:

Play with the angels,
Play on their wings,
Play in the thunder and lightning.




                                                                               

Keith Armstrong

3.12.17

THE SUN ON DANBY GARDENS



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.


KEITH ARMSTRONG




Michael CallaghanAbsolutely brilliant Keith!


Conrad Atkinson: Another gem Keith
Best Conrad 

2.12.17

NEW PUBLICATIONS FROM KEITH ARMSTRONG





23.11.17

ARMSTRONG ON NORTHUMBERLAND




 





























SONG FOR NORTHUMBERLAND




Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.



Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.



Wandering through castles,

their walls are our lungs.

Seaching for freedom

in country homes.

Forbears and old cares

blown in the wind;

pull of loved harbours

draws our boats in.



Surge of the salmon

and urge of the sea

leaps in our local blood.

Peel of the bluebells

and ring of bold tunes

reel in all those grey years.



Slopes of the Cheviots,

caress of the waves.

Shipwrecks and driftwood

float in our heads.

Pele stones and carved bones

hide in these hills,

roots of new stories

in ancient tales.



Dew on our lips

and beer on the breath,

drinking the countryside in.

Bread of the landscape

and wine of this earth,

flows on these river beds.



Drifting in moonlight,

the dunes sing their songs.

Wings of old battles

fly all night long.

Cry of the seagulls,

curse of the ghosts;

aches of dead warriors

scar this old coast.



Hover the kestrel,

sing out the lark,

we will be free in our time.

This air is our breath,

this sea is our thirst

and our dreams are sailing home.







KEITH ARMSTRONG








TWIN THE TWEED WITH THE VOLGA


Twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this comrade in Barrels Ale House,
looks like Nikita Khrushchev.
There’s a Moscow moon on top of his head,
his face is all ruddy and red.
Back in Russia,
there’s a border reiver,
a wild vodka look in his eye,
he’s riding a horse like a cossack
from Vladivostok to Tweedmouth and back.

Reach across water me darling,
it’s worth it.
Spread out your nets and your arms.
You might get a hot Russian lover
and Igor a sweet Berwickshire lass.

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.

There’s this strapping lad in the Kremlin,
he’s from a Spittal back lane.
He’s wearing old Lenin’s disused fur hat,
there’s a Marxist tattoo on his chest.
Back in Berwick,
there’s a soviet cosmonaut,
with a fishing rod in his hand,
he’s trying for a catch in the gathering dusk
as the river slides from yellow to black. 

Share a strong jar with me sweetheart,
it’s warm now.
Hold the smile on your face.
You can sail light on the Baltic
and fly to the Urals with me.  

So twin the Tweed with the Volga,
let salmon jump in Red Square.
Join in a Berwick Revolution,
let a glasnost breeze blow here.



KEITH ARMSTRONG


(Commissioned by Berwick-upon-Tweed Council, 2006)

Because it changed hands between Scotland and England so many times, when the Crimean War was declared, Berwick received a separate namecheck, along with England, Scotland and Queen Victoria's overseas dominions. But, alas, it was left out of the Treaty of Paris which concluded the war. Thus Berwick remained at war with Russia until 1966, when a visiting diplomat signed an armistice with the town.
"At last," declared the Mayor, "the people of the Soviet Union can sleep safely in their beds."

 


OUR SPITTAL

Tammy Spence he had no sense,
he bought a fiddle for eighteen pence
and all the tunes that he could play
was ‘O’er the Hills and Far Away’.




From Cow Road to Hud’s Head,
Toppye Knowe Stone and Spittal Point,
we have dredged the coal
and snapped up fish
with ‘Lovely Polly’ and all.
We have ground the corn and bone,
found the iron and cured and smoked.
We have worshipped Bart and lifeboats
and prayed to Paul and John.
We have staggered on in rain and nonconformity.
We have lurched along old shores,
drowned the thirst of sailors
with the rattling old Town Bell and the tunes of jolly Jack,
whistled and fiddled away
in the bright Red Lion light.
Jesus Light of the World,
we are the history in the barrel,
in the soaring wind
and in the foaming waves:
it is our blood,
it is our bread,
it is our Spittal,
our mirrored past. 




KEITH ARMSTRONG







 

ALNWICKDOTE


These rough stones,
carried for miles to build
such a Castle,
mounted on fields
of bitter sweet slopes.

Stoned lions,
countrified gargoyles
hunch, unpouncing;
their stiff glares fixed
on us fee paying visitors,
taking a stroll through
the dusty chapters,
the library dungeons.

And I would suppose
this afternoon to be,
for us, some piece of history,
both strolling through
crisis after crisis,
hearts beating heart beats
and blood warm, flowing
through us as we walk between
such cold walls,
older than a Duke,
but never as wise as this love of mine
nor as fragile as
that historic moment inside the Castle
when once you smiled at me
so wonderfully.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

Alnwick Castle, Northumberland

(published in From Both Sides of Hadrian’s Wall.
Contemporary poetry from south Scotland and north England)


 

TELL ME LIES ABOUT NORTHUMBERLAND



(in honour of Adrian Mitchell)

Say this land is ours, 
these pipe tunes do not cry. 
The birds all sing in dialect,
old miners breathe like dukes.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Tell me it isn’t feudal,
that castles were built for us.
We never touch the forelock,
bend to scrape up dust.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your pretty girls don’t stink of slaughter,
your eyes don’t blur with myth.
You’re as equal as a duchess,
saints never smell of piss.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

Your roots are in this valley,
you were never from doon south.
You never hide your birthplace,
you’re a real poet of the north.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

The churches are not crumbling,
the congregations glow with hope.
We are different from the foreigner,
our poetry rhymes with wine. 

Tell me lies about Northumberland. 

There is no landed gentry,
no homes locals can’t afford.
There’s no army on the moors,
the Romans freed us all.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

That the hurt is in the past,
the future holds no war.
Home rule is at our fingertips,
the Coquet swims with love.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.  

‘The Garden’ is our children’s,
Hotspur spurs us on.
The seagulls are not soaked in oil,
the cows are not diseased.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

This Kingdom is United,
‘Culture’ is our God. 
Everyone’s a Basil Bunting freak,
there’s music everywhere.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We will have our independence,
we’ll get the Gospels back.
We live off museums and tourists,
we don’t need boats or trades.

Tell me lies about Northumberland.

We’re in charge of our own futures,
we have north east citizens here.
In this autonomous republic,
we’re free as dicky birds.

So shut your eyes.

And tell me lies 

about Northumberland.





KEITH ARMSTRONG

Mo Shevis  I think Adrian Mitchell would have been well and truly honoured by that one Keith!


THE CUTHBERT POEMS BY KEITH ARMSTRONG


KEITH ARMSTRONG PERFORMED THE FOLLOWING POEMS IN THE CHURCHES OF BAMBURGH, BEADNELL, NORHAM AND TWEEDMOUTH IN NORTHUMBERLAND:

'I thought the Cuthbert poems were very powerful...Do go on writing and performing like that.' (John Mapplebeck, Bewick Films).


DON’T TRUST SAINTS

I wouldn’t trust Saints,
goody goody two shoe Christians,
they wouldn’t pull me out of the mire
with their do-gooding ways.
I do my praying in the trough,
sweaty trotters grubbing together,
not in anyone’s heaven
but rooting in the soil
for bread.
Don’t get me wrong,
I like a drop of wine
with me nosh,
and I can put the fear of God
in me neighbours
to keep them off me land;
shoot them stone-dead if I have to.
They can go to Hell
for all I care,
whole lot of them:
Poets and Peasants,
Pipers and Plovers.
I just get on with growing me crops,
no time for preaching Love and Hate.
This Northumbrian sun is all I know,
and the gannets swooping over me.
What I can’t touch or feel or smell or taste
is no good to me:
you can’t eat hymns
but I can catch rabbits.


THE BONES OF PROPHETS

The bones of Prophets
rot in this sacred land.
Cuthbert’s spirit soars with the gulls
over the ancient ground.
North Country hearts
beat with the songs and ballads
of missing centuries;
lyrics in the rough wind,
notes in the margins.
The Saints and the Scholars
scribble down the years -
but who can make sense of it all?
Bind up the volumes
of human endeavour
in this vast universe,
let the dust of our thoughts
feed the insects.
Northumberland is in truth
a bleak land
held together by dreams,
fantasies of us all being Saints:
an open slate,
still wet with the drizzle
of the scribe’s pen.



THIS BURNING BEAM

This burning beam
that did for Aidan,
Bamburgh’s finest
fallen King of Northumbria
in ashes.
Palaces of Pretence,
Gefrin on a summer’s afternoon,
basking by the Glen
where Paulinus
baptised us with pelting sleet,
and where the late Josephine Butler
spread her kind smile
for the welfare of wor women folk,
for the goodness of touch.

Oh Edwin oh Oswald,
oh Ida oh Hussa,
carry my head in your hands.
My mighty warriors of Christ,
is that you in the curlew’s cry?
Is that you in the breeze on my face?

Cuthbert’s a hermit crab,
a ‘Wonder-worker of England’,
and I am an empty shell of a man,
talking to birds
because they make more sense of my life.

Listen to me Bede, I’m the Universal Soldier,
I have rubbed ointment
on Cuthbert’s sore knee,
ridden with him across the sheep-snow hills,
and bathed his suppurating ulcer
in red wine.
Light a torch for me
for I am no Saint.
Yet I speak
the Gospel Truth:

Grant to me, Lord Christ, for this pilgrim journey through life,
Your ready hand to guide me, your light to go before me,
Your protection to guard me from evil,
Your peace to rest within me, your love to sustain me,
That through all the joys and sorrows that meet me
I may know the promise of your abiding strength,
Until I reach my final homecoming with you forever.

commissioned by berwick museum 2007




HEXHAM TANS


‘Hides lifted from a lime-pit were soaked for days, scraped and ‘bated’ in solutions of dog excrement and ground bark before hanging up to dry.’

You ancient company
of skinners and glovers,
you gossiping crafts.

You hatters and tanners,
leather-dressers and cutters,
we can hear you and sniff you in Hexham’s dank lanes.

You clockmakers and bookbinders,
pipemakers and joiners,
we touch your worksore hands.

You shoemakers and collarmakers,
weavers and saddlers,
we bear your burdens and your smiles.

You dressmakers,
ropeworkers,
cabinetmakers,
basketmakers.
Tinsmiths and
millwrights,
butchers and
engravers.

You 1000 sewing women in your homes,
you bakers and tapestry-makers,
you’ve led us here -

we worship you,
we drink your sweat.



KEITH ARMSTRONG

 

HEXHAM RACES POEMS INTRODUCTION


The following poems are by Tyneside writer Dr Keith Armstrong. They were first written in the year 2000 for his poetry residency at Hexham Racecourse and an exhibition of the poems with artwork by local artist Kathleen Sisterson was launched at an event at the Racecourse in September of that year, introduced by Hexham based sports writer Harry Pearson, with readings from Keith and folk music from Mike and Peter Tickell and Ray Sloan on Northumbrian Pipes.
Since 2000 Keith has been a regular visitor to Hexham Races and continues to find inspiration for his poetry in every visit.

Other commissioned work by Keith includes ‘Fire & Brimstone’ the story of Tynedale artist John Martin and ‘The Hexham Celebration’, both for the Hexham Abbey Festival.
He also has also compiled and edited a local history book ‘The Town of Old Hexham’ and organised a festival celebrating the life and work of Hexham born poet Wilfrid Gibson. 

 


LADY JOCKEY, HEXHAM RACES
(for Miss Lamb on Rubislaw)


I am a lady jockey;
dark stallions
course my veins,
and my heart
pounds
with a herd of wild hoofbeats,
blood pulsing
hot breath
of bold horses.

I jump the frantic fences
of my daydreams,
eyes lit
with a glow of life:
I toss and turn
and thrash
in the sunlight;
my mighty steed
romps
across the warm grass,
heat
startling
my taut body.

I am joyous
to be alive,
skylarks fill
my thirsting throat.
I will ride forever
breathing ecstatically;
an animal love
in my lungs;
and the smell
of a bold Northumberland
scenting
my bracing hair.





KEITH ARMSTRONG



BOOKIE’S SUIT
(forJack Randall)


In return
for your soiled cash,
he gives you scraps
of paper that fly
across these hard earned fields of Yarridge,
through history.




KEITH ARMSTRONG


 

BOOKMAKER BILLY DAY


His cap bobs
above the fray
of punters
who have not got a prayer.
They say that every day
is Billy’s Day
and every bet
more breath
in his kids’ bodies.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

 






JUMPING JAMIE!

The poems below were written by Keith Armstrong for a touring show ‘O’er the Hills’ by Northumberland Theatre Company in 1988, recounting the life of Northumbrian Piper, Jamie Allan (1734-1810), and based on an original idea by Armstrong.
The show featured Armstrong in performance with associate writer Graeme Rigby together with  musicians Kathryn Tickell, on Northumbrian Pipes, Rick Taylor, on trombone, Paul Flush on keyboards, Keith Morris on vocals and saxophone and Joan McKay on vocals, with original music by Taylor, Flush and Tickell.



JUMPING JAMIE!

A mischievous man you might say
but with beauty did he play,
with his wee fingers
tripping
over songs.

When he piped,
the rivers and girls came
running.
The world danced
when Jamie drooled
on his lance.
Yes, when Jamie smoked,
the salmon
leapt in his pipes.

A bit of a lad and bad
but oh what a way he had;
with the fish
and his hands leaping,
he set the salmon and some women
jumping:

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart
in your hymns,
your wild Northumbrian hymns -

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart.






JAMIE LIVES!

I see him.
Everytime I see
the Coquet,
I see him.
Everytime
I walk
the Cheviots,
I sense his voice.
I hear him
in the Curlew;
I hear Jamie
in the wind.
His tunes
haunt me still;
his wandering fingers
ripple through
the grass.
His tunes splash
across the river,

skim
in me.



IN THE YOUNG DAYS


In the young days,
I swam,
dipped in the River Coquet.
Along the banks I ran,
shouting for the sun.

In all wild flowers,
I’d lie,
picking out such scent,
jinking jaunty amongst sheep,
dancing for my keep.

Now by the Ganges I walk,
the evening streaming blood;
such wanders through a different land,
such songs of our dead brothers.

In the scale of things I am
but a small fish abroad;
all rivers flow together,
all wonders outlive man.

Jamie Allen I,
piper by the sea;
notes flow inside me,
streams flow by.
 



OUTCLASSED*

I never really knew my station,
my destination.
I was restless,
yearning.
Could never settle
for second best.
Yet I was
consistently
outclassed.
Ending my days
dingily alone,
stripped of illusions
and riddled
with humility.
My ego starved,
my regal palate fed
on bread
and Coquet water.


*performed by Mike Tickell on the Kathryn Tickell album ‘Common Ground’ (1988)

FOOTNOTE:
Jamie Allan, the most renowned inhabitant of the House of Correction, Elvet Bridge, was born of gypsy parentage near Rothbury in the 1730s and his accomplishment on the Northumbrian pipes earned him recognition from the Duchess of Northumberland.
He became resident at Alnwick but misbehaved and lost her favour. Subsequently he led a remarkable and irresponsible itinerant life throughout Europe, Asia and Africa but on his return was convicted in 1803 at Durham Assizes of horse stealing, and condemned to death. This sentence was later commuted to transportation but, probably due to his advanced age and poor health, this last journey was not enforced and he spent the remaining seven years of his life in the House of Correction. This is the building where Hollathan's is now housed.
He died in 1810 on the day before the Prince Regent granted him a free pardon. It is said that his ghost wanders the dank, dark cells and that the plaintive sound of his pipes can sometimes be heard.
No Wonder! What greater punishment to a wandering gypsy than this? Even his request to be buried in his native Rothbury went unheeded and he was interred in St. Nicholas' Churchyard, now part of Durham's busy Market Place. 




OLD STATIONS



There’s an old station
I keep dreaming of
where I wandered
as a child;
flower baskets
seep with longing
and engines
pant with steam.
It might have been
at Chollerton,
in a summer’s field,
when I realised
how good
life could be,
in the sunshine
of my songs;
or it might have been
at Falstone
where the roses
smelt of smoke
and I felt
the breath of railwaymen
wafting in my hair.
This little boy,
with his North Tyne lilt
and the dialect
of ancients,
ran up the platform
of his life
and chased
the racing clouds.
It was a first taste
of Kielder Forest
and the light
that skimmed the hills
and the engine
rattled through the day
to drive me
to my roots:
to Deadwater
and Saughtree,
the hours flew
for miles
and the railway
ran into my veins
and sparked
history in my soul.
In this album
of a fragile world,
I’d like to leave
these lines
for you to find
in Bellingham
or Wark,
a tune to play
in Reedsmouth
in Woodburn
or in Wall.
Along this route,
I hope you'll find
a glimpse of me in youth;
the smiling child,
inside the man,
who took the train
by chance
and found his way
with words
and leaves
to Thorneyburn
and Riccarton,
along the tracks
of dreams.




KEITH ARMSTRONG


(written for an exhibition at Bellingham Heritage Centre, June 2013)

 

Beautiful and evocative (Conrad Atkinson)


Thanks for your wonderful poem 'Old Stations'. It's a truly moving piece of work, tapping childhood nostalgia but in away that seems naturally to a young imagination being born of the lore and physicality of the trains and railway stations. ( Noel Duffy)


Really liked that one, so descriptive , I could see it all in my mind’s eye! (Marie Little)


Wonderfully evocative, Keith. (Sid Smith)


Like it! (Pete Thompson)


It's great Keith! (Peter Common)


As ever, a lovely poem & one I can easily relate to. (Geoff Holland)

Bob Beagrie Lovely poem Keith


Dory Dickson Memories flooding back, very evocative poem.


Alan Clark Smashing poem Keith. I walked the route when we were teenagers, camping along the way. I got fascinated reading big orange LNER timetables when we were at school in 1965 and it was long gone. Here's a shot I took a few years back, just over the border from Kielder, between Deadwater and Saughtree...



I love that.  (Kathryn Tickell) 



HEXHAM RIOT 1761:


TUESDAY MARCH 10TH 1761


‘The Market Place was a tragic sight. Bodies of the dead and wounded lay scattered. The ground was stained with blood and the cries of the wounded were pitiful. The following day it rained, washing away the traces.’


Wash away the day,
wash the pain away,
sweep the remains of yesterday
into the racing river.
Beat the Dead March,
bang the old drum,
heal Hexham’s bust bones
and cry me a river,
cry the Water of Tyne.
Wash away the day
and wash this pain away.


 

A PITMAN DEAD


With blood gushing out of his boot tops,
a well-dressed man
leaves town
along Priestpopple.
Thirteen men lie inside the Abbey,
not owned.
Numbers are found dead upon the roads.
Big with child, Sarah Carter shot,
the musket ball found in the child’s belly.
Thrice into a man’s body
lying at James Charlton’s shop door
it’s said they ran theIr bayonets;
and a pitman dead,
a weaver:
all those broken days of history,
all the slain hours in our diaries.
Sound the Abbey’s bells!
Let them toll the severed minutes.
Let them celebrate
the end of torture.
Let them gush
with rejoicing
for more peaceful times.

 


THERE’S A RIOT


These streets,
in this Heart of All England,
are swept clean of blood.
But the stains still soak our books.
Death upon death,
we turn the pages;
in between the lines,
we read about the screams,
time’s bullets
tearing flesh away.
There is terror lurking in this Market Place,
just scrape away the skin
and, deep down,
there’s a Riot:
a commotion boiling
a terrible turbulence,
a throbbing pain.
It is a Riot of gore,
a torrential downpour
of weeping:
a seeping sore
that is Hexham’s History.




KEITH ARMSTRONG

(Poems featured in Hexham Local History Society Newsletter Autumn 2011) 




AT ANCHOR


Birds hurl themselves at the leaping Tyne;
I catch them through the evening window.
It is cold for the time.
My throat is stuffy with poems left unsaid.
Weary troubadour I am,
swimming with visions of ancient European tours.
Now I have landed, with my seagull wings, in Haydon Bridge
to honour a famous son.
I am lodged in the Anchor Hotel,
another lonely night of a whirlwind life:
lorries howl around me
and I can hear a village trembling
in the blinding dark.
Restlessly at anchor,
I cannot sleep for the ghost of John Martin
lighting up my room
with dynamic visions
and the thunderous clatter of his wild dreams.
Stuck in the rut of my own poetry,
I force myself to sleep,
bobbing by the river,
under the fantastic sky.
The community lights shine on my imagination,
and the screams of swifts
make a life worthwhile.




Keith Armstrong,
Haydon Bridge,
Northumberland.




John Martin (1789-1854). Historical Painter. Born Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789. Died Isle of Man 1854.

 


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