A doughty champion of his local culture.(Poet Tom Hubbard)Your performance at the city hall was soooooooooo good! Christoph thought it was excellent! (Carolyn)





This is where I was joined to the world,
this is where I first appeared
and took to walking
along the sun-baked pavements
on the route of the 15 bus.
I joined
with the Heaton race,
found a sense of place 
out of my mother's arms
and up Sackville Road
to Ravenswood.
Junctions rushed towards me,
engines of progress,
steam days in the 52B shed.
Magical machines
flew past me
along the quarter mile sidings
in the coaly night
as the local cats screamed
and young dogs yelped.
It was my time
to run with my youth
and someone threw me 
a book to disappear in,
something to engage
my history with,
streets lining up
for exploration;
feeding off
Chillingham Road, 
getting lost
in the Scala,
eyes swirling
with street life, 
the Whitefield Terrace colours
of another teeming Heaton day.
There I was
chucking snowballs
at trains,
skimming along rails,
for girls on the ice.
We pranced together,
joined gangs of trees
in the Park,
threw ourselves
into the smoke from chimneys,
dreamed through the nights
of black locomotives,
joining us to London
and Edinburgh,
taking us out
of ourselves.
We don’t forget
those junctions
that linked us
to the wealth
of a history shimmering
in the back lanes  
and in the leaves
dancing in sunlight 
in Jesmond Dene,
running across Armstrong Bridge
to greet 
our futures. 


The trains
speed through
your memories:
the old lady waiting
with a pram,
the boy in black and white.
Days in the Heaton sun
swept aside
in the rush
to rationalise.
I was that boy,
still am,
on the platform
looking for the words
to express
true feelings
for my home;
drifting in the smoke,
derelict clouds
along First Avenue
and out of sight
into local photographs.




Dear Mr. Armstrong,
I hope this finds you well.  I've never done this in my life - i.e. contact a writer - but felt I really had to thank you for the fabulous poem about the Forth Bridge which appeared in the Scottish Review.   It so inspired me that I wanted to hang out the window and shout it across the bay!  (I live on a wee island on the west coast.)

Not only do I also love that bridge (I spent my childhood holidays in Fife and always got so excited whenever we crossed it), but I like bridges in general (don't know what that says about me and don't care to find out!).  I'm also a Russian speaker and absolutely love Mayakovsky's great poem inspired by the Brooklyn Bridge. Yours is equally inspiring, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway - all I wanted to do was to congratulate you and say thank you for that truly marvellous poem.  It made my day reading it.

All the best,
Moira Dalgetty


Strapping girders,
lusty arches:
the span of my ambition,
shore to shore
you link me with the old bones,
the new ways,
the true trains that take me
down the path of all my loves.
You lift up your wide arms
to take in the tide,
roll with the shaking wind
that whistles in the rushes
of the wild banks.
You thrill me with your size,
your strong embrace;
you roar with achievement,
you make me proud:
I could hug you.
Let me take the Queensferry train,
slide through you to freedom.
The pipes play
and the kilts sway
to greet us.
You are the opening,
the gap we streak through
to the woolly wilds
of Auld Reekie
and Bonnie Old Dundee;
to the sea of workers’ blood,
the red rust of the past that clings
and hugs the bones of dead engineers.
In the Albert Hotel,
tucked up, I hear you moan in the darkness.
I pull back the curtains
and see you floodlit
in all your entrancing glory.
Shine on, shine
you crazy bridge.
You have my devotion,
you have my deepest darkest love.
I would climb you stripped;
I would feel you breathe in the Firth wind.
I give you my heart and soul,
I am frail against your depth.
You will outlive me,
do not mock me,
you are superb.
You are my outstretched lovely;
I will breathe through you,
long for you,
die for you.
Rock me,
go Forth
and inspire me.


Peter Selgin Love this very fine poem and the bridge that inspired it



‘Hours, more brief than the kiss
Of a beam on the lake that is mourning,
Than the song of a bird on the wing,
Which drops down like pearls from above .....’

Annette von Droste-Hulshoff (1797-1848)

I have lakes for eyes today
on a ferry across memory.
I am reaching for friends,
skirting boundaries.
My arms thrash in wild waves.
In this moody vista
of wet dreams
and legends,
the horseman rides
his panting steed
across the ice of cold lake kisses,
not knowing, in all this darkness,
just how close he is
to a plunging death.
The swirling weeds,
that wrap themselves
around our shaking bodies,
are full of drowned days
and gulped-down sunshine.

Look! These Alps are clouds today,
and the mountains pile up in the sky.
The line is thin between
fantastic vision
and suicide.
Another sip and I’ll slash my wrists,
gash the sky with blood,
dash poems on a promenade
awash with tourist trash
and the curse of cash.

Knowing looks
she gives me,
does this mighty Constance.
She gleams with sunlight
and sadness,
her red wave hits the mountain’s edge.
I want to get to know her more,
to sail in her dreamy looks
and thunderous smiles.
What tales she echoes,
what amazing craft
she sinks.
The breath of Europe
is recorded in the Bodensee’s sighing:
the wars and agonised cries,
the shrieks of pleasure-boats,
the dying of pointless ideals.
Her castles and churches bear testimony
to all the joy and futility,
the spasms of birth,
the ruination of fine folk.

And so my good friends
let us sip the scent off our brimful Lake
to forget where we’re going
for at least one long breath.
Life can be good at this moment.
It will come on to rain
but the Swabian Sea
will float with stars.
The flaming blood of her heart
will break through a thousand gates.
And our songs will live
when we are gone,
and some will tremble at them
who felt like us.


Lake Constance



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.


JAMIE ALLAN (1734-1810)


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.


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

When he piped,
the rivers and girls came
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 Jamie!
Home your heart
in your hymns,
your wild Northumbrian hymns -

Jumping Jamie!
Home your heart.


I see him.
Everytime I see
the Coquet,
I see him.
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,

in me.


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.


I never really knew my station,
my destination.
I was restless,
Could never settle
for second best.
Yet I was
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)

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. 

BOOKINGS: Contact Northern Voices Community Projects tel 0191 2529531 if you are interested in  booking the ‘Jumping Jamie!’ show featuring Keith Armstrong and Ann Sessoms (Northumbrian Pipes).

the jingling geordie

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