Follow the Sun is a new project for this year's Heritage Open Days (September 8th to 11th 2016) to mark the bicentenary of George Stephenson's sundial at Dial Cottage, Killingworth.

Northern Voices Community Projects, with the support of North Tyneside Council, is encouraging local writers, artists, musicians and schoolchildren to come up with poems, songs, stories and artwork to celebrate the sundial. A booklet of the written material and artwork, together with an historical background, will be launched on September 9th in Killingworth with readings of poems and stories and performances of the songs.
Please send your poems, stories, songs and artwork on this theme to NVCP:  k.armstrong643@btinternet.com



The leaves blow through the glass
as dreams float in the room
and people I have travelled with
climb up these timbered stairs.
Memories coat the walls,
days wander down the lane;
there is no telling where the tales
of drunken nights have gone.
Church bells punctuate the moon,
screams open up the dawn,
and I see Jennifer lying there,
poems oozing from her smiles.
At morning, Ingrid, with her little hands,
brings coffee to my brain
and Karin calls at evening’s door
with wine to ease the pain.
All these dancing moments,
the dripping down of hours;
this house’s chest is heaving
with the loss of human touch.
I drink those sunken days
and know the gulps are fleeting
but the moonlight-stains on the empty bed
will show we bled
for love.






You picked splinters
with a pin each day
from under blackened fingernails;
shreds of metal
from the shipyard grime,
minute memories of days swept by:
the dusty remnants of a life
spent in the shadow of the sea;
the tears in your shattered eyes
at the end of work.
And your hands were strong,
so sensitive and capable 
of building boats
and nursing roses;
a kind and gentle man
who never hurt a soul,
the sort of quiet knackered man
who built a nation.
Dad, I watched your ashes float away
down to the ocean bed
and in each splinter
I saw your caring eyes
and gracious smile.

I think of your strong silence every day
and I am full of you,
the waves you scaled,
and all the sleeping Tyneside streets
you taught me to dance my fleeting feet along.

When I fly, you are with me.
I see your fine face
in sun-kissed clouds
and in the gold ring on my finger,
and in the heaving crowd on Saturday,
and in the lung of Grainger Market,
and in the ancient breath
of our own Newcastle.


'This is one of the poems I'll never forget. I see the struggling of my own dad in your words. 
Thanks for your fine poem.' (Klaas Drenth) 

Beautiful poem. Loving, moving memories. Most excellent Keith.’ (Strider Marcus Jones)

'Love the poem Keith. That’s my dad.’ (John McMahon)

Annie Sheridan 'Beautifully visual Keith ,nice to share your memories.' x

Imelda Walsh 'Lovely poem, loving memories too.'

Kenny Jobson 'So, so good, Keith - I'll share this, if you don't mind.'




Tuebingen (and a trace of coffee)
invades the edges of my agitated tongue
as I glide through the empty stools
of the moments gone
and the sensational waitress
picks at the tips
of those forgotten days,
the wasted breath
of political song.
I have lost something
that poems can’t define:
the warmth of my mother’s smile in the shivering moonlight,
the love of a lifetime
and the ways my young feet
ran along in the summer breezes.
But my friends (those who stand by me) I tell you
I shall rise,
I shall rise again at Newcastle Airport
and greet the runways of Europe
with kisses fresh
with longing
for the ache of adventure,
an air hostess’s hand in mine
as I cling to the sunshine in her eyes
and the golden memories
to force me to laugh again.




You never knew
how beautiful I could be.
You never saw
just how blue my eyes were.
You couldn’t feel me fly
and did not sense
the passion in my beating words.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.

You were never there
when my heart broke.
You didn’t pick me up
when my ideals drowned.
You never got drunk with me
in the sunshine of my smiles.
You never felt the love in me.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.

You hemmed in my free spirit
with your overeducated mind.
You trapped the birds in my poems
and caged my strong ideas.
You couldn’t act the fool
for fear you lost your face.
You never risked a dance.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.

You never studied the art of chance,
the sudden surge of love in a stranger,
the golden coin in an Edinburgh gutter.
Your education controlled your heart.
Would you save me as I fell from the sky?
Would you bleed for me?
I sense not, I sense you are cold.

So don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.
I don’t want to see you there.

Because you lied to me forever.
Because you couldn’t play a tune in your poems.

Don’t come to my funeral,
don’t come to my funeral.




There’s a hole in this Newcastle welcome,
there’s a beggar with a broken spine.
On Gallowgate, a heart is broken
and the ships have left the Tyne.

So what becomes of this History of Pain?
What is there left to hear?
The kids pour down the Pudding Chare lane
and drown a folksong in beer.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.

There’s this dirt from a history of darkness
and they’ve decked it in neon and glitz.
There are traders in penthouse apartments
on the Quayside where sailors once pissed.

So where are Hughie and Tommy, Kitty?,
the ghosts of Geordies past?
I don’t want to drown you in pity
but I saw someone fall from the past.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.

While they bomb the bridges of Belgrade,
they hand us a cluster of Culture  
and tame Councillors flock in on a long cavalcade
to tug open the next civic sculpture.

And who can teach you a heritage?
Who can learn you a poem?
We’re lost in a difficult, frightening, age
and no one can find what was home.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.

So here is an oubliette for you, Kitty,
somewhere to hide your face.
The blood is streaming from fresh wounds in our city
and old scars are all over the place.





in your father’s pouch,

two hundred born over a few days,

some less than the length

of a fingernail,

you are such fragile trembling things,

such slender horses.

Tiny fins beating,

thirty times every second,

you are all mating for life

surrounded by danger

and polluted worlds.

Cowering in coral reefs and mangroves,

taken for mere souvenirs

and man’s crazed schemes,

twenty million of you are lost every year.

Tiny heartbeats,

please hold on tight

to the whispering sea-grass.

This grieving world,

this messed up planet,

needs your precious sensitivity,

needs your watery beauty

more than ever.



FRIENDS OF THE GRAVES (for the Birtley Belgians)

‘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.


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).




We turned its global head as babies,
traced its edges onto paper,
scarcely scratched
the surface
of that old familiar spotted face
shaped up, boiling for a fight.

Hung on walls,
it looked so static
but in its latitudes and longitudes we knew
that people moved,
homes grew,
cities drowned
and cliffs broke.

Later, travelling,
we stepped out
across the sheet,
skipped the Channel,
new squares.
Then creeping back
at dusk,
we folded up this map,
packed away the ice
and sunny beach,
stuck it all in a small back pocket
and shrunk back
into our own world’s frontiers.
That tiny territory
of our scars.






In Luebeck,
feeling like a shipwreck,
I saw the ghost of Thomas Mann
stuffing his face with Marzipan.


* Luebeck - North German Hanseatic city, famous for the manufacture of Marzipan and as the birthplace of the novelist Thomas Mann.



‘Our paths may cross again, they may not. But I wish you success for the future. I don’t think you are a person who is easily defeated through life as you are by nature a peacock which shows at times its beautiful feathers.’               
(Margaretha den Broeden)

In the Department of Poetry something is stirring:
it is a rare bird shitting on a heap of certificates.
He bears the beautiful plumage of a rebel,
flying through the rigid corridors,
the stifling pall of academic twaddle.
He pecks at the Masters’ eggheads, 
scratches pretty patterns along the cold walls of poetic power.
He cares not a jot for their fancy Awards,
their sycophantic perambulations,
degrees of literary incest.
These trophies for nepotism 
pass this peculiar bird by
as he soars
above the paper quadrangle,
circling over the dying Heads of Culture,
singing sweet revolutionary songs, 
showing off
his brilliant wings
that fly him
into the ecstasy
of a poem.

the jingling geordie

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