jingle jingle!

jingle jingle!

31.12.13

SO THAT'S WHAT TWINNING'S ALL ABOUT!





















Keith Armstrong of ‘Northern Voices Community Projects’ looks at twinning exchanges and recounts a few stories along the way

‘Ein bier bitter – und ein Martini for the wife’ demanded ‘the lad’ from Peterlee Cricket Club of the German barman in the twin-town of Nordenham. Spotting ‘the lad’ was of English extraction, the barman, in near impeccable style, politely enquired ‘Sweet or Dry, Sir?’ ‘Just the one!’, our ‘twinning boy’ snapped back, sensing a German plot, returning triumphantly to his stool in the town’s ‘Beer Akademie’, thinking how well he’d handled a potentially tricky diplomatic situation.

As Peterlee’s Community Arts Worker, having eavesdropped this touching exchange, I thought to myself ‘So that’s what twinning is all about!’ As one of the co-ordinators of the initiative, I felt I was entitled to wonder just how the twinning link had transpired and was it worth all the effort. This was back in 1980-6 and times were hard in the mining communities around Peterlee. People’s minds were concentrated on survival; ‘twinning’ could hardly be considered paramount. But it played a small part in expanding horizons. By 1986, I’d made 8 visits to Nordenham with different groups and individuals, including the Youth Drama Workshop, the East Durham Writers’ Workshop, and the local band ‘the Montgolfier Brothers’ (ex-‘DTs’, ex-‘Sick Note’, ex-‘Death By Trombone’!) for many, this was their first excursion to foreign shores, and it changed them, they occasionally fell in love, and cried when they had to leave Germany. Who would have thought?
Naturally, there was method in the developmental madness. It was meant to change attitudes, get the ball off the Durham island, develop links, forge exchanges, and generally broaden political and cultural understanding. Not that it was plain-sailing, of course. I well remember a night out with ‘the Montgolfier Brothers’ around several local bars, ending with an extended toasting session with a man with a monocle and a scar down his cheek who we promptly christened ‘Uncle Herman’. Uncle Herman declared a passion for British Scientists and offered Schnapps all round for every such scientists we could name. I think a general state of collapse was declared after the toast of ‘Michael Faraday!’ and Kenny, the bass guitarist, was, as legend has it, woken early the next morning in a local shop door-way by the drip-drip of a window cleaner’s wash-leather! Yet the band bounced back and gave several outstanding performances in the town’s schools and in the community centre. Their single at the time ‘Things That Go Bump In The Night’ quickly became a cult hit in Nordenham.

And the there was the coach-tour round the town with Frau Ehleman of the Rathaus (Town Hall) as our guide, a very enthusiastic and kindly lady with an unfortunate way of constantly popping a microphone! Not only was this, however, her phrase-book unique. As the coach rolled away from the Rathaus, we were pleased to have pointed out for us, in rapid succession, ‘the field of the dead cows’ and ‘the house where you can buy the women’. By way of explanation, it transpired that there was pollution in the soil, from a local factory, and, further down the road, was situated the local brothel. And we’ll never forget the unique invite to go ‘mud-walking’ the next morning!

So we weren’t short of the odd moments of humour, though, in fact, we did get through a lot of hard work, with the Writers’ Workshop performing, with translation, their poems and songs in the town’s schools and at an Anti-Nuclear rally. General political and cultural discussion was always encouraged and usually ensued. During the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike, the twin-town of Nordenham sent parcels of food and toys to the striking miners and their families and made financial contributions to the ‘Save Easington Area Mines Campaign’. And we vividly remember heading the Nordenham May Day procession and visiting local factories there. Our delegation generally stayed in twin-town homes, a gesture which was usually reciprocated when our friends from Nordenham trade unions and peace group visited us in Peterlee.
Many of the twinning links in North East England are with Germany and French towns and our positive experience of Nordenham has led myself and others connected with ‘ Northern Voices’ to seek to develop further links, building on this success to overcome the negative feelings local people often have of such connection, viewing them as council ‘junkets’ and the like. Whilst this ‘junketing’ does still go on, there is scope for getting involved in promoting more constructive political and cultural dialogue with our twinning partners, especially more significant in the changing European landscape. Indeed, in recent years, through the good offices of Durham’s Euro M.P. Stephen Hughes, poets and musician from ‘Northern Voices’ performed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg!

The town of Tübingen in Southern Germany has been described as ‘a town on a campus’, given that out of a total population of 77,000, 25,000 are students and 8,000 employees of the University. So that the nature of its twinning with County Durham is distinctly academic compared to the more industrial nature of both Nordenham and Peterlee. It has also a somewhat richer history in a number of ways – Hegel studied there, the eccentric poet Friedrich Holderlin lived there in his Tower for 30 years and expired there, and Hermann Hesse, the writer, worked in a bookshop there in his formative youth. To this extent, the town’s Cultural Office was interested in a literary link and ‘Northern Voices’ was, therefore, invited, and funded, by Durham County Council’s International Exchange Officer to pioneer a literary connection in 1987. since when, 11 successful visits have been made, featuring poets, and musicians in the folk and jazz idioms. Readings have been staged in schools, pubs, and at the University, and reciprocal visits to Durham by Tübingen poets ant the University ’s Anglo-Irish Theatre Group arranged. We have also participated in discussions on regional culture in the new Europe. In both the twinning examples highlighted above, the links forged have led to anthologies being published. To accompany a visit by East Durham Writers’ Workshop to Nordenham in 1986, a bi-lingual pamphlet, ‘North Sea Poems’, was produced and, in the cases of Tübingen, a joint bi-lingual anthology ‘Poets Voices’, featuring poets from both Durham and Tübingen, was launched in the Holderlin Tower in June 1991.

Other interesting twinning links which ‘Northern Voices’ has pioneered in the cultural field are those between Newcastle upon Tyne and its Dutch Counterpart, Groningen, and between Wear Valley and Ivry-sur-Seine (just outside Paris). And ‘Northern Voices’ remains committed to this area of cultural work now and in the future. This might have a lot to do with our being based on the North Sea Coast. Certainly, in my own case, not only did my father graft in the shipyards for forty years or so, and his father before him, but his tales of his Merchant Navy days and of travels to Rio, Cape Town, Lisbon and so on truly inspired me as an impressionable youth and this excitement in travelling has carried over into my cultural activities. As a founding member of ‘the Tyneside Poets’ group back in the 1970s, I vividly recall the links we developed with our Icelandic counterparts, and, in particular, our visit to Reykjavik during the Cod War of 1976 when I performed my epic poem ‘Cod Save The Queen’ (!) to an audience of over 200 excited Icelanders. This was followed by a visit in 1980 to Georgia in the then Soviet Union. After one late night session with a worker-writers’ group in the steel-works town of Rustavi, I coined the following short poem:

(TO A FELLOW WRITER IN RUSTAVI0

Last night we swapped our shirts
They didn’t fit our bodies too well
But they fitted our mood
Exactly.





Such memories stay with you for the rest of your life. They change you. And whilst I’ve dwelt exclusively on international links, I recall with fondness the twinning of Greenwich and Easington Councils during the ’84 Strike and the links we developed then. So it can happen within our little island too. And it’s fun. That, after all, is what twinning’s all about! Try it.

23.12.13

CHET - FROM A WINDOW



































































CHET - FROM A WINDOW



(in memory of Chet Baker, born December 23rd 1929, died May 13th 1988)



The constant onslaught of Amsterdam
surged through Zeedijk
on that hot night
when a full moon
dragged you
flying to your death.
In your room,
in the Prins Hendrik Hotel,
your clothes lay
neatly folded
in your suitcase,
with your body
a foetus on the street below.
Great white hope
fallen
offstage,
a love for heroin never shaken.
Sorrow was your stuff,
a plaintive,
lyrical anguish,
an excess of gloom
and charm.


This undernourished and parched body,
a singing corpse,
searching for an uncollapsed vein,
an expert driver hating the road
and the bleak hotel of his doom.
Such a foolish love.


Oklahoma farmboy on a golden trumpet,
his teeth knocked out in San Francisco,
become chained to an album a day
for a thousand dollars in cash.


And the Italian you learned in a Lucca jail,
your spirit surviving its deportation,
a lonely and melancholy master drifter
whose pianissimo
touched the soul.


Friday 13th May 1988,
Chet’s heart stopped
and his horn
lost its tongue.






KEITH ARMSTRONG

21.12.13

LOCKERBIE























‘Futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight.’

(Patricia Coyle)


In Lockerbie,
the sky is red
and the clouds are banked like grieving hills.
In this curled up sleeping town,
humble in its sandstone walls,
you can hear
the hooves of history
clipping the soaking streets
and the high heeled girls
clattering on a Saturday night
with the cutting wind
ripping up their thin skirts
as they bleed into town,
past the sheep feeding on the ancient land
by Rosebank Crescent
where ‘The Maid of the Seas’,
Pan Am 103,
exploded on a sunk estate.

And life throws strangers together,
throws a suitcase of junk together.
And all our memories are ashes,
all our fantasies smoke.
And no one but the simple bending vicar knows
why The News dropped through our roof that night,
crashed onto our TVs that night.
Only the God in the angry sky has a glimmer,
only the groaning tombstones of Lockerbie have an idea,
the silent sandstone
and the biting rain;
only the old Scots lady knitting
for the refugees,
ducking her head under a leaden sky
for fear
the future lands on her.
And, in a field not far away,
someone’s diary lies rotting;
a love letter
scattered in the wind;
the wind
that won’t leave Lockerbie
alone:
the red dust on a broken past;
this town’s historic wound
aching on the map.







KEITH ARMSTRONG








Your poem 'Lockerbie' was published by the Scottish Review and it impressed me so much (I was a journalist at the time of the Lockerbie incident) that I introduced my Higher English students to it. They too found it very powerful. I would now like to incorporate it into the course work material I am working on but need your permission to do that.


I look forward to hearing from you - and having looked at other work on your website, can I say how much I admire your style.

Best wishes

Marian

17.12.13

THOMAS SPENCE 1750-1814 - WATCH OUT FOR BICENTENARY BOOK AND EVENTS IN NEWCASTLE & LONDON IN THE NEW YEAR

































THE HIVE OF LIBERTY

(AFTER THE NAME OF THOMAS SPENCE’S BOOKSHOP AT 8 LITTLE TURNSTILE, HOLBORN)


I am a small and humble man,
my body frail and broken.
I strive to do the best I can.
I spend my life on tokens.

I traipse through Holborn all alone,
hawking crazy notions.
I am the lonely people’s friend.
I live on schemes and potions.

For, in my heart and in my mind,
ideas swarm right through me.
Yes, in this Hive of Liberty,
my words just flow like wine,
my words just flow like wine.

I am a teeming worker bee.
My dignity is working.
My restless thoughts swell like the sea.
My fantasies I’m stoking.

There is a rebel inside me,
a sting about to strike.
I hawk my works around the street.
I put the world to rights.

For, in my heart and in my mind,
ideas swarm right through me.
Yes, in this Hive of Liberty,
my words just flow like wine,
my words just flow like wine.




KEITH ARMSTRONG



FOLK SONG FOR THOMAS SPENCE

(1750-1814)


Down by the old Quayside,
I heard a young man cry,
among the nets and ships he made his way.
As the keelboats buzzed along,
he sang a seagull’s song;
he cried out for the Rights of you and me.

Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.

Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.

His folks they both were Scots,
sold socks and fishing nets,
through the Fog on the Tyne they plied their trade.
In this theatre of life,
the crying and the strife,
they tried to be decent and be strong.

Oh lads, that man was Thomas Spence,
he gave up all his life
just to be free.
Up and down the cobbled Side,
struggling on through the Broad Chare,
he shouted out his wares
for you and me.

Oh lads, you should have seen him gan,
he was a man the likes you rarely see.
With a pamphlet in his hand,
and a poem at his command,
he haunts the Quayside still
and his words sing.


KEITH ARMSTRONG




(from the music-theatre piece ‘Pigs' Meat’ written for Bruvvers Theatre Company)

the jingling geordie

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