What I Now Know About the Rugby World Cup

Rugby World Cup Poemfor BBC Radio Leeds 18/9/15
I’m no expert on the Rugby World Cup,

but it being held here might wake my interest up.

At the moment I think a Haka 

is someone who listens to your phone messages

and don’t even ask me what I think a Hooker is.
I gather this is a sport England can actually win,

(though the papers would probably blame a loss 

on Jeremy Corbyn)

Apparently it’s William Webb Ellis and line outs

and trying and trying and trying again,

it’s being a flanker,

not being a…flunker

and smelly, sweaty, steely men.
It’s getting together in the middle of the pitch for a big group hug, (I think that’s what it is)

it’s staying stoic 

when someone’s squashed your intestines to a pulp,

it’s being heroic 

and facing bigger blokes with a quickly swallowed gulp.

It’s your bowels feeling squeegy

before tonight’s opening bout with Fiji.

It’s definitely Union, not League but that doesn’t mean it’s posh.

Both types bring the region dosh. 
It’s opposing scrums of muscly boys 

and oggy oggy oggy oi oi ois

It’s tackles and kicks and laying it on thickly,

before injury sends you off

for sequins and suntans on Strictly.

It’s probably giving peace a chance

& not mocking some other team’s native dance- Hakarena- Schmacarena.
It’s big thighs,

and last minute surprise,

it’s rucking and mauling

and never ever bawling.

It’s having wins and losses and showers together,

and secretly liking muddy weather.

It’s in-tune singing from the crowd,

getting anxious and feeling proud,

faces painted with flags and woad,

four nations meeting at Elland Road,

three teams based in welcoming Leeds,

meeting all their off-pitch needs, in Fanzones and manzones, 

Millennium Square, 

it’s being able to say you were there.
From Headlingley to Halifax

as the Swing Low chariot calls,

even I’ll be fascinated by the men

with the funny shaped balls. 

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My Final Column for The Journal

This was my final column for The Journal. I’ve done it every single week for the past four years. I think I didn’t take a break because I thought they’d realise they didn’t need it if it wasn’t there. They don’t of course- these things are a luxury when local papers find it hard enough to pay journalists. They did say I could carry on without pay- but I think I can use the free time to write things for my PhD and surf the net looking at Jeremy Corbyn’s photos of manhole covers.

THE LAST COLUMN

I first came to Newcastle from Bradford as a twenty three year old apprentice radio journalist for Metro Radio in 1998. I drove an unreliable Rover Metro called Edwina and listened to “Garbage” and “Catatonia” cassettes at high volume. I fell in love with Tynemouth after glimpsing the Priory’s ruined arches, the two piers’ welcoming arms and rented a studio flat on Percy Park that I could only sort of afford on my ten grand a year wages.

I was older than some twenty three year olds because I’d lived on my own since I was sixteen after escaping from my dysfunctional family- and I was younger than some twenty three year olds for the same reason. I’d learned that you couldn’t rely on anybody, it was best to look after yourself, keep your head down and not draw too much attention. Still, to my surprise, the young team of journalists at Metro became a sort of family. Me, Simon, Julia, Lisa, Stuart, Moira and Alison were left to ourselves to dig out news stories while DJs broke down and managers shouted at people and talked about money and advertising. I still hadn’t told my own story- even to myself- but between us we told the stories of lottery winners and children’s home refugees, blue carpet artists and fruit and veg stall campaigners, IRA fugitives and wannabe pop stars.

A young management chap whose greatest achievement since seems to have been arranging the product placement on Hollyoaks, terminated my apprenticeship because he said my radio voice wasn’t good enough and I was exiled for six months to Rutland (the smallest radio station in the smallest county). I came back to Newcastle with my newly trained voice but, after another of the implosions commercial radio stations are prone to, I left to Manchester where an American radio consultant told me I couldn’t read my own news bulletins because listeners would get confused if there were two women at once on the breakfast show. Like a boomerang, I came back again to the city where I still sensed I could use my voice one day, open my mouth as wide as the Tyne’s.

It happened first with poets. Another North East family. This one were lyrical and passionate and political and committed (Some should probably have been committed, but that’s poets for you). On stage with the Poetry Vandals and many more. While the ukulele players strummed at the Cumberland Arms and the Tyne flowed by, we grabbed the microphone and spoke directly to audiences with beers in their hand. I finally learned to rely on other people and collaborate with them in getting others to raise their voices too. It was the mid noughties and,though we (It was definitely “we” now) didn’t get the City of Culture, there was arts money for schools and workshops and, imagine, you could earn more as a poet than a journalist. Encourage kids in schools to follow in your footsteps. “It’s about finding your own way of saying things” I said to thousands of them “Then follow a creative path”.

After the coalition, that money, those opportunities began to dry up. I was lucky- my voice somehow fit in places like Radio 4, then The Journal. I spoke up about the brilliance of North East culture and scenery and the Great North Run and out against the shutting down of steel, benefit sanctions and the inequality of money given to Northern councils. Plus a topic I returned to again and again in my columns over the last four years- how young people have fewer chances to make it, how Northern accents and voices aren’t heard enough or represented enough in the media or in the corridors of power. It’s something I know a lot about.

Local newspapers can still be what my journalism tutor Richard Horsman said they should be; “A voice for the little people who don’t have a voice”. I’ve been glad to have one here for the past four years. To learn more confidence in my opinions, to look at the bigger picture of lives ebbing and flowing like the Tyne, feeding into the North Sea, subject to the droughts and rains of commerce and culture from elsewhere.

It’s a space I knew couldn’t last forever, at this time of austerity and online competition, but I hope I can carry on finding places to speak which are as welcoming as the North East has always been to me. I also hope that, supported by their readers, local media can still tell the stories of those that need them telling and give voices to those who don’t have them. Thank you for listening to mine.

Audience Reviews- reviews of audiences…

Audience for Lindisfarne Festival
Jibba Jabba (Tundra Tent), September 5th 2015
Audience: ****

This audience was a body in flux. People drifted in and out of the white, quilted inflatable cube and stayed, mostly on chairs, some on the floor, for as long as the mood took them while a variety of poets took to the stage. A jack russell sat in the straw at the entrance brought the audience together with his barking, particularly at applause, whilst Jibba Jabba’s Jenni Pascoe periodically roused the communal energy and reminded the audience who and where they were. A particularly inspired moment being when she asked if people liked poetic form and said “No, not poetic faun” to a man who did indeed look exactly like a faun. Unbound by the usual conventions of staying to the end, the free form and free faun audience were committed when they were there and you had the sense that for many of them it was their first exposure to spoken word and poetry. Some brought chairs to sit in the weak Northumberland sun a few feet outside the entrance to the cube, there was more clothing and age diversity than in many spoken word audiences and strong listening. You shouldn’t review your own audiences of course, but I enjoyed the quick and audible laughter of my incarnation of the audience when I was on at about half past five and the response from one audience member to my audible-wondering what poem to end on when he asked “Do you have any poems about the Illuminati?”. Sadly, I didn’t, but squeezed out a Dr Who. The poets in the line up added to the audience and contributed extra “whooping” which sometimes spread infectiously. All in all a risk-taking, responsive and interesting audience.

Audience for Sofie Hagen: “Bubblewrap”,
Liquid Room Annexe, Edinburgh Fringe. Sunday 23rd August 2015
Audience:***

This well over a hundred-strong audience had the challenge of finding the venue through the dark warren of the Liquid nightclub and did well, assembling on time on the whole and being greeted by Sofie on their way in. I think they could have chuckled encouragingly more to show willing and engagement while she was offering a couple at the back a pouffe from the stage and her conversation stopping opening line, delivered in great deadpan Danish accent definitely deserved more “..So I was pissing on this guy…” but they warmed up in the sections where she read her teenage Westlife fan fiction and gave heartfelt applause by the end. They were a little too ready to simmer straight back down to “Antiques Roadshow” audience politeness between punchlines for my tastes, though this might just have been attentiveness to her compelling story of teenage mental health issues which they found hard to square with then breaking straight out into dark laughter mode. I felt like the well-constructed, written and performed show was a good bet for the Fosters Newcomer Award nominations (and so it proved with Sofie going on to win) and wondered how far this approbation might have tipped some audience members over into a more certain laughter at points.

Audience for “Budd Kaplinski” (Deanna Fleysher)
Liquid Annexe, Edinburgh Fringe, Tuesday 25th August 2015
Audience: *****

This audience sat in a circle in dim light, hung on every word that noir-detective Budd with an anglepoise lamp up his raincoat said and proceeded to narrate and construct a hilarious film-noir over the next hour. From the man who used his voice to do the music, to the Police officers, corpses, intestines (Yes, intestines – my finest hour), whores and their johns, we gave it our all. Triggered by speech-challenged Budd checking that we were all clear- which came out as us agreeing to be all “Queer”- we entered into a willing state of suspension of disbelief, gender and sanity. I was convinced that several of the audience members must have been stooges- particularly the woman who played the Priest who mouthed Budd’s words in a way that looked like she was speaking first, to the man who tied her up at the end during the big reveal and the one who carried her off in the burlesque ending. Apparently they were all genuine audience members, carried along under the spell of the immersive and hilarious experience. Several of them though had been more than once, intrigued by one of the most fun and anarchic performances on the fringe and the rare chance to, not just participate, but be included. Skilful permission giving from Budd’s creator, “comedy artist” Deanna Fleysher, turned this audience into a company who seemed almost telepathic in their responses.

Do you have an audience you’d like to review?
Submit an up to 350 word review with date and details of the performance to me at katefoxwriter@me.com