“You Can’t See the Wood for the Yellowy Nylon”: A Fluorescent Jacket Too Far…

Is it just me or are there far too many fluorescent jackets everywhere you go? I work part-time in a primary school and whenever we take the kids out on a trip they all have to be wearing that most beloved of health and safety uniforms.

First of all, why on earth they need to wear these in broad daylight completely escapes me. I remember when I was in school and we went on all kinds of trips through the woods, the city, the dungeon and we got on just fine without any fluorescent jackets at all!

article-2335617-1A259C26000005DC-646_964x541I’m told it’s so that drivers can see the kids near the road more easily.

Well excuse me for sounding a little cynical here, but I think that any driver careless or short-sighted enough to miss a line of 30 or so children crossing the road (and not slow down accordingly) is probably careless or short-sighted enough to miss a fluorescent jacket as well. There. I said it.

“But why take the risk eh Rowan?” you say. “Why take the risk when it would be just as easy to put on the jacket, put on the jacket and avoid all the doubt”.

Because: “oh dear, I bet that wouldn’t have happened if they were wearing a fluorescent jacket” sounds so much worse than: “well.. they were wearing a fluorescent jacket… there’s nothing more anyone could have done here is there!?”

But it isn’t just school children though is it? Since the 90’s all kinds of officials like policemen, electricians, postmen, gasmen, council workers, builders (pretty much every official who has to walk the street) now wears a fluorescent jacket don’t they?

It seems the logic here isn’t about safety but authority. “Look at me! I’m an important person!” shouts the self-righteous luminous jacket, with its magical glowing properties: far superior to any of your pathetic, regular fabrics with their lack of ability to reflect light. “BOW DOWN BEFORE ME!!”

safety-jacket300x350-ad-fAnd cyclists use them as well don’t they? To show the motorists that they’re there, while motorists use them now during breakdowns as well. It’s actually law in some European countries to carry a fluorescent jacket in the car all the time, if you don’t you can be fined!

Whatever happened to faith in the good old-fashioned light, that’s what I want to know! The car light? The bike light? The street light? Remember those? They did the same job! Except they created light instead of reflecting it!!

“Well its OK for you to poke fun Rowan!” I hear you retort, “having never been in a serious accident in your life. People are doing this for the benefit of themselves and their families and you’re mocking it! With your big mocking face! I hope you die!”

Well I can let the school trips slide.. and the cyclists, the motorists.. and the officials at a push. But today I saw something that went right over the line and crossed into sheer absurdity.

I saw a man. Walking his dog. In a residential area. In broad daylight. And him and the dog, WERE BOTH WEARING FLUORESCENT JACKETS!

dog in fluorNow I’m sorry but this is just too far! What’s next? Jackets for cats as well? Might as well go the whole hog and start sticking them on wildlife too! Pigeons and badgers all lit up in various techno-colours because “YOU NEVER CAN BE TOO SAFE CAN YOU!?”

So let’s get this straight. The pedestrians and the dogs are wearing the jackets for the motorists and the cyclists to see right? The public servants and the officials are wearing them for the public in general, while the motorists and cyclists are wearing them for the other motorists and cyclists.

So the message here seems to be: “Here! Everyone! Look out for everyone! All of the time”… which seems to dilute the whole point of anyone wearing them in the first place!!

It reminds me of an anecdote from my time doing A Level history. I looked at another student’s exercise book and noticed they’d highlighted every line, bar a few connectives like ‘the’, with a yellow highlighter pen.

“But how are you going to know which bits are the most important?” I asked.
“Oh, I’ll just remember all of it” she replied vacantly.

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The Dark and Sinister Truth About Justin Bieber

I write this in fear that I may be assassinated, for I am truly the definition of a man who knows too much. But I have no choice but to continue! A sense of moral conviction urges me to reveal to the world the dark truth I’ve learned about Justin Bieber.

You’ll find one of his works posted above, the song entitled “Dr. Bieber”, and I have transcribed the lyrics at the bottom of the page encase you’d like to check the details for yourself.

For what I’ve found upon close analysis of his wordsmithery is nothing less than terrifying. However, I’ll start from the beginning.

I first sat down a few months ago to study the lyrics of “Dr. Bieber” in more detail. Bieber seemed to have such an excellent mastery of the American tongue, I thought it would be beneficial to my own writing if I looked at the techniques he had used.

I was at first surprised to learn that, as well as being a professional lyricist, Bieber is also a trained medical practitioner! Yes, like John Keats before him, Bieber not only has a great knowledge of language but an in-depth understanding of scientific practice as well. We are told from the off:

‘Cure the Bieber fever,
Dr. Bieber,
Dr. Bieber,
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber,
Dr. Bieber,
Dr. Bieber,
Bieber fever,
Dr. Bieber,
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber’.

What we learn here (except from his excellent mastery of both repetition and internal rhyme) is that Bieber is not only a doctor but is on a mission to, as he says, ‘cure the Bieber fever’.

Bieber Fever is a disease of the brain which is most commonly found in young girls between ages 6 and 17. The causes of it are little known but the effects in early stages include an irrational obsession with Justin Bieber himself, leading to intense hysteria and later to a complete deterioration of all cognitive processes.

One might say that it is extremely honorable of Dr. Bieber to try to cure this disease. Last year, Bieber Fever was responsible for putting around 150 thousand young people into a waking coma, while the World Health Organisation have deemed it the fastest spreading and most dangerous threat to humanity (a fact also alluded to in the lyrics themselves).

Honorable more still, perhaps, when we consider that Bieber himself is the focus of the irrational obsession which characterises the onset of the fever.

One may say it is quite apt that it’s he, of all people, who has decided to dedicate his time to finding a cure. “Apt,” I found myself thinking at the time, “but also very strange”.

We are then told:

‘Yeah, I got a PHD
I don’t need a fake ID’

I found this information quite troubling. First of all, if any ‘True Beliebers’ are reading, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not disputing the fact that Justin Bieber has been awarded a PhD.

No, judging from his knowledge of Bieber Fever I think it’s safe to assume that he studied virology. Which university he attended isn’t clear, although sources seem to indicate it was probably an institution such as Yale.

The main problem I have here is that, being a graduate myself, I have never been able to substitute my B.A as a valid form of ID.

In fact, upon telling a bouncer at a local nightclub that I had no ID but did have a First Class Honors from a Russel Group University, I was told, and in no uncertain terms, that if I didn’t leave immediately I would be “knocked clean oot”. I then spoke to a friend who is a doctor in virology, who confirmed that his position and qualifications don’t work as ID either.

Suspicious? Yes, and it made me wonder what kind of establishments Dr. Bieber is frequenting, as their policy towards underage drinking seems to be lax to say the least.

But it’s here that the song takes a much more sinister turn, for Bieber goes on to tell us:

‘I’m so sick with no IV
J to the U to the S to the T
Bieber fever’s in the street
Time to realize
I’m a beast, I’m a beast, I’m a Beast
Say it 3 times cause they know it’s right’

First of all, try to ignore Bieber’s masterful adaptation of the ‘power of three’ motif in the last two lines (an obvious reference to the ‘Weird Sisters‘ of Shakespeare’s Macbeth).

Instead, look closer at the medical language used. Now, far be it from me to question Bieber’s knowledge of the correct codes and practices for doctors. However, it seems to me that no doctor should be researching a cure at all if they are as sick as Bieber claims. Furthermore, the fact that he can’t obtain an IV despite being a doctor seemed curious to say the least.

“But what is he sick with?” I asked myself frantically. What is the link here between Bieber clearly being ‘a beast’ and having ‘no IV’?

The dark truth began to bubble to the surface when I read shortly afterwards:

‘Catch this virus in the night
I know it’s uncurable
It’s durable
But it’s alright’

Something wasn’t right here, the facts weren’t adding up. What kind of man would spend what must have been at least 7 or 8 years studying for a PhD in virology at Yale, what kind of man would study for that long only to dedicate his great mind to curing a disease which he admits himself is in fact ‘uncurable’?

But his description of the Bieber Fever points directly to the sinister reasons that lurk beneath; he describes it as ‘durable’, he says that it’s ‘alright’. “This surely isn’t the kind of language you would use to explain a disease you want to eradicate,” I thought, “it’s closer to the language you would use to sell a back pack, or a modest pair of walking shoes: something you had designed for a purpose”.

‘This is not a cold,
Not a flu
Not a sickness
Baby this is good
And it doesn’t hurt to get this
You were never cured
And you never will regret this’

I shrill sense of terror crawled up the base of my spine and I knew from that moment that Dr. Bieber had created the fever himself.

A man of science gone mad with power, he used his adept knowledge of virology to design a kind of human equivalent to Mxymotosis.

His aim? To destroy the minds of all young people by administering the virus in drinks, served in disreputable night clubs with very lenient controls on admitting children.

He then used the alibi of being a musician to conceal the fact that he had unleashed it upon the world.

‘It’s everywhere
It’s taking over the water
It’s taking over the air streams
You can not run from it
You can not hide from it
That’s why we call it
BIEBER FEVER!’

But that wasn’t good enough for Dr. Bieber… Drunk on his own incredible intellect, he dosed himself with the virus and, in a fit of insanity, confessed the entire plot within one of his own hit songs.

I started digging further. Found others who knew. Met with scientists who were originally involved in “Project Fever” before they refused to carry on: realising the dark truth about what he was plotting.

Then things started happening. Strange things. Threatening messages from anonymous callers telling me to “forget about the fever”. My ringtone kept being changed from Toots and the Maytals to Justin Bieber. Then I found a small bomber jacket under the covers of my bed one day…

I was in too deep. I still am. But there’s nothing I can do now.

There are some who’ll say I should have told the police, approached scientists to try to create an antidote. God bless their innocent souls! But the renowned Dr. Bieber himself has already boasted of its ‘uncurability’ and it’s ‘durability’! I ask you, what hope is there of finding an antidote now?!

No. If the fever doesn’t get me then the Bieber most certainly will. And the only cure for either, is a bullet to the brain…


* “Dr. Bieber”

[Justin Bieber:]
Cure the Bieber fever
Dr. Bieber
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber (Bieber fever is spreading across the country…)
Dr. Bieber (wait world no universe…)
Dr. Bieber (Bieber fever is spreading rapidly and it is uncurable I repeat uncurable)
Bieber fever
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Cure the fever
Cur cur cure the fever
Cur cure the fever
Cure the bieber fever
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Cure the fever
Cur cur cure the fever
Cur cure the fever
Cure the Bieber fever (yeah, yeah)Yeah, I got a PHD
I don’t need a fake ID
Yeah you females know of me
I’m so sick with no IV
J to the U to the S to the T
Bieber fever’s in the street
Time to realize
I’m a beast, I’m a beast, I’m a Beast
Say it 3 times cause they know it’s right
Catch this virus in the night
I know it’s uncurable
It’s durable
But it’s alright
Bein’ this bad across the globe
Been every single home
Every city
Every country
Every girl is on the phone
(Oh my gosh I love him. Isn’t he perfect?)
You can be my queen, yeah
I’ll show u how I work it
How I work it
How I how I work it
How I work it
How I how I (work)This is not a cold,
Not a flu
Not a sickness
Baby this is good
And it doesn’t hurt to get this
You were never cured
And you never will regret this
Yeah, my swag’s up
Riding with Kenny
In the Lexis[Kenny Hamilton:]
Oh My God
It’s bieber fever
It’s everywhere
It’s taking over the water
It’s taking over the air streams
You can not run from it
You can not hide from it
That’s why we call it
BIEBER FEVER![Justin Bieber:]
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Cure the fever
Cur cur cure the fever
Cur cure the fever
Cure the bieber fever
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Dr. Bieber
Doc Doc Doc Dr. Bieber
Cure the fever
Cur cur cure the fever
Cur cure the fever
Cure the bieber fever
We Know the DJ.com
We got DJ Tay James right here
We also got Sean Kingston[Sean Kingston:]
What a’gwaan
You know what it is Bieber fever man!
[Cough cough] Shawty mane, [cough cough] shawty mane
I caught Bieber fever too

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Getting Away From It All with Simon Mole

Simon MoleI’m really excited to announce I’ll be shadowing MC and spoken word performer Simon Mole as he runs a workshop at ARC in Stockton on the 16th of August.

He’s a really talented performer who mixes theatre and rap together and he’s equally well-known in the world of UK hip hop as he is in spoken word.

His CD and vinyl releases have been aired on Radio One and he’s been tipped by The Metro as ‘one to watch’. If you’ve never seen his stuff, check it out here.

He has a really laid back and conversational style which I’m a big fan of as, even when he’s using lots of rhymes, it holds on to a sense of ‘realness’; sort of like the way Simon Pegg can make something really unusual seem completely believable to an audience.

The workshop, Getting away from it all: Raps, Poems & Short Stories, is aimed at 14-19 year olds and is themed around holidays. It’s set to be class day, with some very intriguing interactive activities planned to get every member of the group writing some fresh and original work.

It’ll run between 10am and 5pm and, if you want to book, you can find more info here:

http://www.arconline.co.uk/whats-on/workshops-and-classes-workshops-and-classes-get-involved-young-people/getting-away-from-it

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Review: Jibba Jabba 25/07/13 @ The Cumberland Arms

It’s about 30 degrees and I’m crammed in a crowded, darkened room. The sweat is pouring from my face into a puddle on the floor and we’re all listening to a woman with tarot cards explain a mysterious Hindu proverb. You’d be excused for thinking I’m in the Far East, but I’m not. I’m just in Byker!

It was the latest installment of Jibba Jabba! Which was host to two sneaky Edinburgh Fringe Festival previews from the marvelous Kirsten Luckins and Steven ‘Friz’ Frizzle, as well as the charming ukulele stylings of Alix Alixandra.

DSC_0526Final-JPegAlix opened up the show, starting with a song about it being too hot to have sex, a lovely jazzy number which had all the allure of Rosemary Clooney’s “Come On-a My House”.

I first heard Alix when we were performing together a few months ago at a guerrilla gig in Sunderland and she’s definitely one to keep an eye on! She’s a fascinating musician, with a good knack for writing catchy chord progressions and vocal melodies.

You’d expect that the stripped down sound of just her and an un-mic’d uke would make her fall into the background a bit on stage. But you’d be wrong! Her voice has a captivating soulfulness to it that just grabs you by the ears and pulls your face in her direction.

By the time she did a song entitled ‘You Could Have Just Stayed’, with its lyrics reflecting on the failings of a past relationship, I don’t think there was a jaw which hadn’t dropped in the audience.

DSC_0798Final-JPegKirsten Luckins wowed us with excerpts from her brand new show The Moon Cannot Be Stolen, a collection of poems, stories and experiences from her time spent living in India. As I mentioned at the top, it was hot by this point (I mean really really hot) and as Kirsten led us through the drug riddled, violent underbelly of 90’s Goa, I couldn’t help but get transported there in body and in mind: a bit like Universal Studios’ 4D thingy but with less bum bags (and I’m referring here to both the belt/purse contraptions and the people who wear them).

Having been the Apples and Snakes co-ordinator for the North East and a poetry coach at their monthly scratch club for a number of years, I suppose it should come as no surprise that Kirsten is an amazing poet in her own right. But every time I see her she really does blow me away and this time was no exception.

Her style is voluptuous and dense with images, nodding its head to poets like Zena Edwards in its smooth and sexy delivery. However, her speech often flits between a quite ‘literary’ language and a much more conversational tone, which gives it a true versatility of expression. To put it another way, she’s a poet who’s not afraid to call a spanner a spanner when it’s most blatantly a spanner; she never minces her words unnecessarily in a vain attempt to try to sound ‘poetic’ and I think this flitting of styles gives her work a real rawness and clarity.

However, I must admit I was skeptical about how she would create a show about a year spent traveling; one which would be accessible to someone who perhaps hadn’t been to India or even abroad at all.

But The Moon Cannot Be Stolen is much more than a travel diary: it’s a deep questioning of the nature of each of our identities. As she looks back on her past self she asks who she was then and who she is now. She asks if any of us have an internal identity, or whether it’s all just a result of the time and place we’re living in at that particular moment.

As well as this, she also performed a short poem which managed to make dysentery sound sort of beautiful, which is living proof that, though you may not be able to polish a turd, you can cover it in sparkles!

Catching up with her after the show, she told me about her feelings towards the 25-year-old Kirsten. “I feel very maternal [towards her]. I just want to grab her and say ‘what are you doing!?’ but I also feel very lucky to have had that experience”.

If you’re lucky enough to be at The Fringe this year, you can catch her full show from 3rd to the 10th of August at La Tasca at 4pm. You will not be disappointed!

DSC_1225Final-JPegStephen ‘Friz’ Frizzle was also on top form, performing his catchy rewrites of pop songs into hilarious, scathing and topical punch lines for his new show Plinky Plonker. The highlight for me was the opening ditty, a rework of Justin Bieber’s ‘Baby’ into a dig at the news’s obsession with the royal birth; also his version of ‘Monster Mash’, which is literally about Monster energy drinks and mashed potato. It has to be seen to be believed and you can catch him at The Fringe at Fingers Piano Bar between 3rd and 24th of August, 6.40 pm.

And on top of all these antics there was the usual open mic! We saw some fantastic performances from Ettrick Scott, Dominic Berry and Juli Edgdell as well as some more… challenging work from a Mr. Ian McGregor-Hart, who took to the stage multiple times to play midi tracks off his phone and sing out of tune lyrics about parrots and planes.

Such is the nature of open mic though I suppose and, all in all, it was a brilliant night. And for only 3 quid as well! Well, you know how the old saying goes: the best things in life are 3!

Photographs kindly provided by Jonathan Parker @ Spurious Nonsense Art Photography

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Geordie Sore

Last year I met a top notch poet called Ben Norris while we were doing a slam in Bristol. In jest, he mentioned that it was hard to get his head around the difference between the way I looked and the way I talked. I was wearing a suit at the time, with a waistcoat, and I was talking in.. well I was talking in my voice.

He joked that when he thought of people from Newcastle, he thought of them all looking, acting and talking like the cast of Geordie Shore- and how we all laughed!… But there is a grim truth to this joke; sure enough, whenever I travel somewhere, I find the same response over and over. Most recently, while meeting a friend of a friend in Berlin who said simply: “I don’t know anything about Newcastle except Geordie Shore”.

geordie-shoreThe fact that there is so much more to the North East than this means these comments have often filled me with utter despair, though I know it’s by no means the fault of anyone who’s said it. Geordie Shore’s pulled millions of viewers since it aired and it’s now shaped Newcastle’s public image irrevocably. MTV has sold us down the river, tricking the rest of the world into thinking the North East is a twisted fantasy land full of psychopathic Ken and Barbie dolls.

But as time went on this bitterness towards MTV started to grow into an idea for a show. Exactly what kind of culture does the North East export to the rest of the world? What do North East celebrities make it seem like? And what’s it really like?

I don’t think any of my favorite things about living here, namely World Headquarters, Tynemouth Beach or The Sky Apple Cafe, would ever make it on to MTV or end up in a Cheryl Cole song. I think its safe to say there’s another side to modern Newcastle that’s not being talked about, a more unique and (dare I say it) intelligent side.
As well as this, what about the history? The Train, The Light Bulb. Will our creation of so many planet altering inventions be washed away by the Jager Bomb riddled urine of an MTV reality show?

And, just like that, two of the ideas for poems I had buzzing around in my head sort of collided and I thought: what about a piece narrated by Joseph Swan, as he tells us about a Gothic-style nightmare he’s just had about the cast of Geordie Shore? (Try looking for that in a Cheryl Cole lyric). Joseph Swan, for anyone who’s not sure, was an inventor from Gateshead who created the light bulb.

Joseph_SwanHowever, to write this tale I would have to do some essential research because… and here comes the twist… Until this point I’d never actually watched Geordie Shore. I mean, I had had all its ‘pivotal’ moments summarised to me on a daily basis from colleagues and friends, from hot tub sex to poo in box, so I already felt fairly sure that there was nothing to be gained from watching it.

BUT HOW WRONG I WAS! Well I mean, there wasn’t anything to learn or gain spiritually. But it was a comedy goldmine!

I was faced with the challenge of where to start, there now being so many series to choose from, so I went for the “authentic” experience of starting at the beginning and, I must confess, I haven’t watched them all. However, the 4 hours of what I got, I’m assured, is the basic standard of the rest.

I laughed (in that *crying on the inside* sort of way) at the vacant comments, like Holly’s “being Geordie is a lifestyle: you go out to get pissed and don’t give a shit about anyone”. Or the now infamous bastardisation of the Geordie tongue in phrases like “tashing on” and “game as a badger”.

But there was something sinister there as well. The constant plying with alcohol, to people who are (lets face it) basically children. Or the fact that their boss, Anna, is really nothing more than a corporate pimp, dressing them up in scanty clothes even more revealing than the ones they own and encouraging them to get drunk and flirt with strangers to attract business.

I mean, I’m not saying that the cast of Geordie Shore are some sort of angels led astray by a smooth talking business executive (especially not after the whole ‘Sophie’s a racist’ *thing*). But I don’t know how an organisation like MTV can justify plying these spoilt, emotionally underdeveloped young adults with so much booze and god knows what else so that they make utter tools out of themselves for the sake of entertainment.

I find it all pretty barbaric to be honest and, while it’s a fool on the cast for letting themselves look that stupid, I think the real scumbags here are the people facilitating it and making it seem like it’s an example of real people from Newcastle.

Anyway, to end on a lighter note, as well as this poem I’m now working on a host of other voices and stories from the North East. It looks I’m going to be attempting something which many of my friends and colleagues have been doing well before I started: fighting to give Newcastle an alternative voice!

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