The greyhounds lash along the track,
as fists bash on the windows of Limerick Gaol.
I am staggering in the darkness of White Wine Lane,
and my path lies lost in the rain.
Let the horses run wildly out of control,
like my brain on too much whiskey and gin.
Let them throw my heart off the broad Shannon Bridge,
I have to die somewhere and this night will do.
I shout my poems out to the odd few who’ll listen,
be it Wolfe Tone or O’Dwyer or Davitt or Griffin.
I am lying dead drunk in the People’s Park,
I am knocked out with girls on poor Punch’s Row.
O Limerick Days you are haunting my soul,
my songs cry out for your old Summer Street.
Make love when I pour you a glass of my verse,
with hope may it set your ancient soul free.
Posted by keith armstrong at 6:26 pm
York is in spate.
the length of the Ouse.
They fill up the day
with their heaving breath,
faces flushed with sweltering youth,
juice of life running down their breasts.
And my eyes are watering
with the frustrated steam
rising from the Railway Museum;
the empty passion of the Minster.
As glistening ducks swim The Avenue,
wet typists bob through Saviourgate,
their fingers damp with history,
tingling with the touch of word-flow.
So cry me this river,
torrents of ale drown my throat.
Sup me a city,
soak me in song.
Let their warm blouses cling
to their gorgeous skin,
nipples erect with drops of rain.
We are flooded.
It gets everywhere
this stream of consciousness,
this welter of water,
pouring into archives,
gnawing at timber
We have no control.
We cannot stem the tide of hours.
Our boat floats along stream,
urged on by the waves
of boys in a rush,
and dogs swimming like fish.
York is in spate
and I’m lost in its Shambles;
weary arms flapping,
up to the pits in it.
This Yorkshire Life,
and things I do not really understand:
the planes in the sea,
and the ships
in the sky.
Posted by keith armstrong at 9:59 am
By Gary Nunn
“Look at the way he holds a pen, the cack-handed little git!”
These were the first words, delivered by my charming late Gran, that made me realise I was a bit different.
I was nine then and had just started to notice other differences, too. Every other pupil in my class had small silver-handled scissors, sat like a neat row of matching metal mouse ear sculptures in a wooden punnet. Plonked awkwardly at the end of the punnet were a single pair of massive scissors, startlingly luminous yellow handles jolting out at unnerving angles, with a sellotaped label reading GARY in messy, inconsistent handwriting.
Welcome to the childhood of a left-hander.
The adulthood of a lefty is not without its challenges. My handwriting is still inconsistent. Simply writing a compliments slip at work is as much of a headache as organising Olympic security. It requires an extra comps slip to slide under my left-hand as it writes like a meandering drunk moth, spilling out letters as if each one belonged to an entirely different alphabet from the last. The end result is always more of an insults slip than one offering compliments. With plenty of smudges.
Ah yes, smudges. Any lefty will tell you, the blue or black ink stain on the left side of our left hand is like a permanent tribal or religious marking, singling out our rare breed (less than 10% of the population.)
It’s not just writing it affects; in the kitchen, at gym classes, learning musical instruments – all are counter-intuitive to us lefties.
Even language stigmatises us; left is gauche, awkward, clumsy, unlucky, sinister and devil-worshipping. Right, in juxtaposition, is correct, steadfast, proper, authoritative.
On top of this are the regular studies ominously suggesting we’ll have a lower life expectancy as we’re goofily more accident-prone.
But, reader, this is not a tale of self-pity.
Immediately following the regular cack-handed slight, Gran would fondly whisper “It’s what makes you so special, mate.”
Today is National Left Handers’ Day; a day to celebrate this specialness and reclaim our right to be left-handed.
There’s much to celebrate. The number of British left handed adults has increased fourfold in the last century, according to the studies of Professor Chris McManus, of University College London. Mainly because it’s no longer beaten out of us at school. We’re fighting back!
Another way we’re fighting back is by organising a pressure group which aims to get teachers trained on the specific needs of the left-handed child. The Rights of Left-Handed Writers Campaign launches today, calling on the Teacher Training Agency to implement long overdue teacher training explaining the differences of the left-handed writing technique. Lauren Milsom, expert on handedness, says that attempting to get a lefty to write using right-handed positioning leads to cramped hand grip, poor pen control, bad posture, slow laboured letter formation and – of course – that famous smudging. Without guidance, the child is forced to find their own ways of adapting – leading to the classic claw hand grip, body hunched over and bizarre writing angles with paper almost upside down. Prime bait for teasing and bullying, frustrated lefty pupils falling behind academically and acting up in class as a result.
But being a lefty can be a total boon. It’s a handy scapegoat; not just for my untidy handwriting. But also when I lose at bowling (nothing to do with being lefty; I’m just crap at it) and as a tenuous reason I can’t do mental maths (some gullible fools actually believe this). At rounders it’s advantageous when, at the last minute, I bat the ball to an empty left space as the fielders leg it from the right side of the field. And if I miss the ball? Well, it’s because I’m left-handed.
The best thing about being a lefty is the unique, outside-the-box perspective it gives you. It teaches you to be creative, curious and inquisitive, to reject the status quo, to challenge authority to the point of contrariness, to resiliently stand firm without caving into pressure or conforming and to lead, not follow. I recently took up group boxing classes where lefties are called ‘Southpaws.’ When a ‘jab, hook, upper-cut, double jab, hook, jab’ instruction routine is demonstrated, I must do the polar opposite of every one of those instructions, requiring twice as much thought and a subversive feeling of individuality and defiance.
It’s for this reason I believe lefties are hugely over-represented in leadership positions. Prime Minister David Cameron is a lefty. Ireland’s previous Prime Minister Brian Cowen was a lefty, as was his predecessor Bertie Ahern. The world’s most powerful person, President Obama, is a lefty. Had he have lost the 2008 election, the current US President would be John McCain: also a lefty. In fact, five of the last seven US Presidents have been lefties. It’s a remarkable buck of the general population trend that, according to some studies, started with Thomas Jefferson then was continued by Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, Gerard Ford, Ronald Reagan (ambidextrous), George Bush (senior), Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
For every doom-mongering study that predicts we’ll die younger, there are three that find we’re more creative and intelligent.
With those odds, I’d rather be left out than right-on.
Posted by keith armstrong at 2:53 pm
THE HARTLEY PIT CALAMITY 1862:
a display in words and images to mark its 150th anniversary
The Hartley Pit Calamity of 1862, when 204 men and boys lost their lives, was the first large scale mining disaster of Victorian times. The extent of the Calamity, together with the spreading of news by rail and telegraph, brought this tragic event in rural Northumberland into the homes of families throughout the land on a daily basis.
The reaction from the public, together with the interest shown by Queen Victoria, kept the story in the press for more than a month. Just as evidenced in 2010 in the Chilean mine rescue, the public were gripped by the horror of men trapped underground and the heroic efforts made to rescue them.
A new display has been produced by Northern Voices Community Projects to mark the 150th anniversary of the Calamity. It has been compiled by Dr Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon of NVCP and members of the Hartley1862 Research Group and was commissioned by North Tyneside Council with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund. With historical documents and images, alongside the background history and poems and photographs by local people, it forms part of a series of events and activities intended to ensure that the story of Hartley is not forgotten.
The display begins its tour at the beginning of September 2012 as part of the Heritage Open Days programme in St Alban's Church, Earsdon and at New Hartley Memorial Hall where it runs alongside the newly commissioned pathway in the memorial garden.
Further venues follow from October until December 2012 when it appears at Blyth Library, Wallsend Memorial Hall, Segedunum Museum (Wallsend), the Linskill Centre (North Shields), Newcastle Library, Seaton Sluice Community Centre, the John Willie Sams Centre (Dudley) and Wellfield Middle School (Whitley Bay).
NORTHERN VOICES COMMUNITY PROJECTS, 93 WOODBURN SQUARE, WHITLEY BAY, TYNE & WEAR NE26 3JD TEL. 0191 2529531
Posted by keith armstrong at 2:49 pm