JOHN BALL: Come Ye All Who Labour

From stipend and yew treejesmond festival
to field ditch and oak shade
he went out among the labourers
of farm and mill,
even back to the sacred yard.
Him of all people
left with no fixed address,
a hungry candidate,
not for sainthood
that was lost with his waywardness
from a life lived in Alban’s town,
but his preaching debunking
the proscribed chanting
for the common tongue.
Priest of the thorny hedge,
lectern deserter,
his straight and narrow
was cutting as the plough
to level rich earth,
point to its yield
the brethren’s daily grind,800px-William.Morris.John.Ball
depleted ranks
thanks to the plague.
Now another body-blow
having tax served on those
born into servitude,
a tax high as the skylark
with its distant hover.
The guile of the man
was what got to the lords and lawyers
and the heavy hand of Canterbury.
Nothing was too much for him,
horseman or on foot,
he saw no difference
between the man on the reins
and the man at the roadside.
Yet the clerics pronounced:
“No ear shall hear him”.
But short-lived at each parish ground,
choosing passages from his well-thumbed bible
he spoke against the measured order
of what the clerics kept in mind.
The question of tax came back to haunt him
as did Wycliffe and Langland,
fellow-travellers for his realm of parity.
At times, time to think behind bars,
and then London was up for grabs,
John Ball was the talk of the town.
Blackheath and revolt: him and Tyler.
There was the weight of expectation,
a daunting prospect. Nonetheless,
he was in the thick of it.
But he had his time and it went
like stubble in a cornfield laid bare,
a thinned-out recognition of theirs,
what the harvest of wants had been.
G. F. Phillips

The Thorny Hedge

The Hot Blast:  On Blucher’s First Run, 25 July 1814.

‘George Stephenson’s elder brother James was the first driver of the Blucher.  He seems to have followed George round the various collieries as George progressed over the years.  George named one of his stationary engines the Jimmy after him.  Like George, he lived in a cottage beside the Killingworth wagon way with his wife, a large, buxom woman called Jinnie.’  [He was also known for his colourful language].

Hunter Davies after Thomas Summerside, Anecdotes, Reminiscences and Conversations of and with the Late George Stephenson, Father of Railways (London 1878)

Jinnie lit the Blucher’s grate
as if it was her own
at four o’ clock that still dawn
of a July morning,
a well-chosen morning
with the sun up, the grate’s flames
soon raged as fiery as could be.

That big brute
was George’s doing,
iron-clad, a monstrous
fresh beast lodged
behind the cottage line
along colliery way
at once a  showpiece and anomaly.

O her Jimmy of wanting haulage
the lever pulled, in West Moor air
steam spat like fat from a boiling pan,
up back end to chimney
the hot blast made sure
the big brute’s long drag and grind
went over rails, back and forth:  trundled.

And yet so many times she heard
her Jimmy shout?  “Here, me lass,
come put your shoulder to her!
She’s hit a shit patch.
Come, shove!
She’s broken doon again
but she won’t break me bleedin’ heart.”

Momentously, awkwardly,
on the turn, just then
a baptism of throbbing erupted
to let Jinnie attend to her chores:
more floored grass was cut back,
squeezed it Jersey teats of white rich oil
came with the spread of trackside crowd.

(Published in the North Tyneside Steam anthology, editor, Keith Armstrong).

Mr Footer’s Footloose Wanderers Verses


Johnny Spry’s between the sticks, his second name’s The Lynx,
He’ll prowl around the six-yard box then stares out like The Sphinx.
He’s great at making hefty kicks the ball he belts quite far
And when there’s nothing doing he’ll swing along the bar
Until he’s out to grab the ball that’s spinning through the air,
The way he leaps and soars is more than high jumpers would dare. Read more


This winger is schizoid, but only in name,
He’s Olaf and Finnegan, half Celt and half Dane;
He’s blonde and his blue-eyed and he knows about rain.
And he’s nimble and speedy, he goes like the wind
And he’s known to most fans as The Flying Finn.
He’s a man on a mission when the ball comes to him,
And then
When he can:  if he can. Read more


Our back four have kick-off nerves,
Our back four haven’t played for a while;
Our back four have no tank reserves –
Too many nights spent on the tiles.
Our back four must keep it tight,
Our back four must hold their patch;
They’ll get stuck in and battle all right,
They’ll curse and swear all through the match. Read more


‘Pab is the man – he’s fab.’

PABLO LORENZO he loves to turn solo,
He thinks the play revolves around him;
I don’t have to mention he loves the attention,
It’s a centre forward’s old thing.
He’s the one they most cheer when he’s called to appear
For the number 9 shirt claims respect,
And to lead from the front and be a great hunk,
It’s everything the fans expect.
And him they will flatter, buy the one shirt that matters
And the kudos he’ll get from it,
For he loves all this fuss and he can’t get enough
And his goals are all riding on it.  Read more



From a Weld


‘The terrible thing is that the crowd that fills the street believes that the world will always be the same and that it is their duty to keep that huge machine running day and night.’
(Frederico Garcia Lorca)

Young toughs drifted here and there
among the twists and turns of amusements.
Back then, another twist and turn, a brigade
of men from seam and yard. A call-to-arms
on the brotherly circuit for the campo,
with the whirl and swirl of bringing in reserves.

Already set loose were brutal thugs
under many a white dome of a half-world to come,
guns blazing down the shooting alleys of prized streets.
Theirs was a blood feast of screams and cries,
what was music to their ears
on the merry-go-round of more pleasure.

G. F. Phillips
(Published in The Spanish City: The Heart and Soul of Whitley Bay in Words and Pictures, 2010. Compiled and edited by Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon)

Out of Thin Air

A Man from Blyth

He always stood at the bar, standing shipshap
in his blue peak cap, retired, yet not from
teasing the barmaid with his pitch and roll
of a seaman’s yarn or two, such mischief.

Him, taking his time, the slowest drinker
toasting the days with some old comrade,
telling her the same again and as she pressed
the keg’s button and watched the liquid squirt in  Read more


There’s always an unconscious bias
around the boardroom table.
Where are the women? “You try us!”
says the pretty face out in the hall.
But more often than not for these yes men
it’s nearly always the same
their few bald heads won’t soften towards them
for it’s Julian in and not Jane.  Read more

Tango for Two

Under the glass ceiling of sounds
among male reps in A & R
she was and unknown quantity, non-star.
“So are you a singer?”
the big boss asked –  Read more

The Village Schoolroom

A Poem on the 150th Anniversary of the Hartley Pit Disaster, 16 January 1862 with

the loss of two hundred and twenty lives
After the engine beam split
and iron had crashed in-by,
down the one and only shaft it smashed
upon the backshift’s unsuspecting men.
And here the pit hierarchy moved in,
an unplanned requisition,  Read more

Double Exposure

Fresh Contours

The raised landfill is all rump and scraggy
in that gap in the country called nowhere,
free to spread within its wilderness

new filth and mulch, a rich lingering tang
over brick and track, right of way to fields.
Enclosed, long buried brown sludge, trash-mountain,

it’s where seagulls fall in line behind truck drops
and diggers uproot to heave and pitch
crammed folds, life’s wrappings, loose, so hit and miss.

G. F. Phillips
(Broadcast on audio website)

Dodgem Cars

Too busy chasing others
caught in the spurt
of circuit.

Next time round
we’d make a better effort
and quell made-to-measure screams.

So we shoved
others aside at random
then got ourselves cornered.

It was all that temptation
in not having
to play the game straight.

G. F. Phillips
(Broadcast on audio website)


Overnight Raid

In October 2002 builders unearthed a 1000 lb World War II bomb in the Hendon area of Sunderland. It was thought a German bomber dropped it in an air raid in 1940. Sunderland police imposed an exclusive zone affecting 4000 residents and many local businesses. The poet spent a few hours skirting the exclusive zone allowing him to observe the situation and catch pieces of dialogue that took the form of the resultant poem. Read more


As time went by they had to work for the dole
in Whitehall’s appointed zone: the bleak railhead
near Brandon where men from terrace were dragooned
upon the heath – it was new to them.
In tented beginnings their eyes caught blown sand
off Thetford Chase, its choking bracken,
hearing the strange accent and theirs
that summer of 1936. Read more


From the Testimony of an Otherwise Citizen

For Colette Anderson

‘I find it impossible to be ‘objective’ in my approach to the joys, desperation and terrifying fear that the peoples of Burma experience. It is the indomitable spirit, their kindness, determination and humanity that motivates me to persevere with my documentation of these people’s endless suffering.’

Dean Chapman

Read more





Along a beach over-laden with sun worshippers, a mother and child file0001557734235have settled on what was left of a vast desert of captured sand. This was the same sand as in the mother’s childhood: fickle, pliable and reconstituted. Here the child could run around as fresh as the sea breeze, leaving her footprints to be washed over by the incoming tide. But her mother wanted to be anchored to this spot in this pleasurable heat. It was like all the long hot summer’s days she had ever known.