The End of The Wall

Captain’s Log 29/10/16 12:11

dsc00022From the corner of my eye, I think I can see my upstairs neighbour pulling up on the road next to me. I imagine how odd I must look, as I start taking photos of 2 brown envelopes and speaking the words “Captain’s Log” into a dictaphone. I cross the street and continue talking loudly to myself; I stop to take some selfies like some shabby, yet more vain version of William Shatner.

The envelopes are for Gemma and Lee. This is where The Byker Wall ends, with me walking to a postbox at the top of my street in Heaton. Gemma text on the day of filming to say something had come up; I asked if there was a better time but she never got back to me. I did bump into someone who knows her while doing a photo shoot on Thursday though. They never told me what happened, but they used a serious tone. I wouldn’t want to bother someone if they’ve got shit going on, so there’s no hard feelings. Lee sent a message to say he’d had some really terrible news as well, so I don’t think he’s in the right head space for me calling round either.

dsc00010I feel sorry for Lee. You see, I haven’t really been totally honest about what I’ve done, or at least I haven’t found a good time to bring this up. The truth is, shortly after I first went knocking in Byker, Lee’s cousin got in touch via Facebook and I got my first ever Door-to-Door Poetry complaint. She was really really angry, understandably, because I’d published the house numbers and addresses of where I’d visited on here. She pointed out that Lee has a young daughter; that I was putting her family at risk by telling the world where they lived. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. To tell the truth, I didn’t think anybody would read it (who reads poetry anyway?) so I hadn’t given much thought to what people might do with the information. But then 4,000 people did read the post and the idea that I could be illegally distributing sensitive data became a bit of a problem…

It was a cack-handed mistake and I felt like a dick. She accepted my apology and agreed to let me keep the post up, so long as I took the addresses down. I also tried to find out a bit more about what I should and shouldn’t be doing on the blog. It turns out that, because I’m recording interviews and writing them down, it falls under journalism and there’s actually a whole load of, like, laws and stuff on what I can and can’t publish. Who knew? It was a hard lesson for a poet, someone usually more concerned with alliteration than Data Protection.

imag0401Then I bumped into Lee. It was a few weeks later and the first time I’d had any contact with him since the complaint. I was on my way to the pub and I spotted him coming over the bridge on Heaton Road. The minute I did, he put his hood up and turned the other way. My heart completely sank. He must be really pissed off at me, I thought; maybe even scared to show his face too, worried that anything he says or does could be put on the internet for the whole world to gawp at. As he got closer, I knew I needed to say something, to put it right.
“Lee!” I shouted. He pulled down his hood and shook my hand.
“Areet mate, how’s it going?” He didn’t seem pissed off, but then he could just be putting a good face on it.
“Listen. I’m really sorry about what I put online. I just didn’t think.”
“It’s fine honestly,” he replied, smiling, and seemed to genuinely mean it. “You’re just figuring it out.” It’s true, I am. He shook my hand again. I felt the weight come off my shoulders.

So how did I repay Lee for his kindness? Well there was the whole One Show debacle I talked about in my last post. And to top it off, after Lee told me his bad news, I realised the poem I’d written for him was incredibly negative. To be fair, it’s very tongue in cheek, but it suddenly seemed a lot less funny than it did before. I considered writing a new one. That didn’t seem right either. Lee asked me to write a poem about this, who am I to decide it’s not suitable? But it did feel like I needed to include some kind of sorry letter, just to explain how bad I felt about all the laws I broke and such. Then I decided it would be fitting to make it into a poem, so I put this in the envelope as well.

dsc00029I’m posting the letters. It feels sad to be saying goodbye to The Wall. It’s funny how shit scared people looked when I told them I was going to write poems there and how welcoming everyone was to me in the end. It’s been so long since I’ve went somewhere new to write too, I’ve got quite attached to the place. It’s brought me a lot: It got me invited to Glastonbury, it got me a feature in The Guardian and the documentary I’ve been working on was shot there too. So goodbye, Byker, I’ve learned a hell of a lot from you, you’ve changed the way I feel about the world. I understand now that a place’s reputation can be wrong and I hope that sticks with me for as long as I live.

Dear Lee,

I’m sorry I invaded your privacy
when I put your address online, you see,
it turns out I broke Data Protection Law-
something I didn’t know about before
I came around and knocked on your front door.
I think a proper journalist would know
but poets never really need to so
I’m sorry for the damage done, fo’ sho’.

I’m also sorry that I went and said
that The One Show were interested
in filming you, I know that I mislead.
After I called, you rung me back quite soon
to say your kids were now over the moon;
letting you down made me feel like a goon.
A lady who said she’s from Channel One
asked me to pass the information on,
it turns out she was fibbing all along.

Last, I’m sorry that your poem’s quite nasty.
I know that when I first met you you asked me
to write one about how your dog is ghastly.
But I can tell you love her, deep inside;
I hoped the poem would mention this, I tried
but it just ended up sounding contrived.
It might say less about what’s in your heart
but here’s one about how much Precious farts.
All the best and thanks for taking part,

Rowan McCabe


A Dog is for Life

Some things in life are precious,
the laughter of a child;
something so infectious
you cannot help but smile.

The golden sun of morning
through the curtained window,
thick like syrup pouring,
making trees and flowers grow.

The kind and conscientious
mate who’s always got your back.
Some things in life are precious.
But Precious is not that.

Her eyelids red and droopy
like a chicken’s wobbly comb
expose a gaze as moody
as an Emo funeral home.

I don’t know what catastrophe
has made her feel this way
but since she was a puppy
she has cursed my very days.

Daytime walk escaper,
TV presser chewer,
night-time racket maker,
kitchen lino poo-er.

A rancid smell’s her aura,
a fart done in a bin;
the stench walks in before her,
you always know she’s coming.

I dream that I’m a castaway
on some island sands
and I’m only allowed to take
one item in my hands.

Without a thought’s delay
I would take Precious as my plunder,
so I could kill her straight away
and blame it all on hunger.

A drainer of my resources,
a tragi-comic farce,
a sucker of my life forces,
a sniffer of my arse.

I think about assassination,
poison in the biscuits;
the kids the only complication
they’d know that I’d done it.

A dog’s for life, that’s what they say,
and don’t I know it’s true.
But one thing brightens up my day:
She’ll die before I do.

Rowan McCabe

Babysitter Needed

Roll up babysitters… if you dare!
Come and meet the stuff of your nightmares.
Are you feeling brave? Try and take care
Of Riley, the three-year-old Houdini.

For his first trick, Riley will escape
From his cot despite the fact you make
Sure he’s secure with 15 feet of chains
And it’s well past his bedtime really.

Then, as you rest in an easy chair,
Riley will begin his second dare
And disappear the dog into thin air
By opening the back gate’s padlocked latch.

Hearing this, you know something’s awry
And looking out the window now you cry
As Riley tightrope-walks the washing line
And laughs a creepy exorcist-style laugh.

You grab him to protect him from his fate,
Then hold him on the sofa there to wait
Until his parents get back from their date.
It works at first, so you start to relax.

But once all your attention’s on the telly
Riley’s left behind a decoy teddy
And creeping up the stairs he’s getting ready
For his most outrageous final act.

As Mam and Dad approach the house they’re shrill
‘Cos Riley’s on the first-floor windowsill
About to test his bungee jumping skills.
Faint hearted don’t apply, you will not last.

Rowan McCabe


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