Identity and place, Kidderminster, Birmingham & the Black Country

How much is a person’s identity influenced by place? When I moved to Kidderminster in 2006 I felt the need to become more connected to it, and part of that process was to write about it, hence this blog. I now feel a strong connection with the town. That connection is quite different from my fondness for Birmingham, developed from early shopping trips with my mother, through 3 years as a student at Birmingham University, to many years of working in the area. My feeling about the Black Country is different again; my roots are there. I was born in Cradley Heath and have lived in several Black Country towns. Emigrating across the border into Worcestershire, albeit just a mile or two, was a big step!

In my book The Page Turner’s Dilemma and on my CD Bananas from the Heart there’s a poem I wrote in memory of my street which was demolished when I was twelve. (See below.) I’ve since written two other poems which take me back there, one in standard English and one in dialect.

My Black Country alter ego, Pat – Photo by John Watson jazzcamera.co.uk

Writing and performing in dialect is an important aspect of exploring my identity and my alter ego Pat is an amalgam of Black Country women I have encountered. This coming Sunday, I’ll be performing my latest piece together with other dialect pieces, mostly comedic, in a show called Spake Prapper with Dave Reeves and Billy Spakemon. The show is part of a day of Black Country Spoken Word and music at a unique venue in Stourbridge, the Red House Glass Cone, used for the manufacture of glass until 1936.

Here you will find details of the event and the venue. http://www.kmsevents.co.uk/events/4582817223
It promises to be a heart-warming and entertaining day.

 

37 Holly Bush Street 

37 Holly Bush Street,
a few doors up from the Mission,
lying in bed on a Sunday morning
trying hard not to listen
to the slowest singing in Cradley Heath,
a rousing hymnotic dirge:
“May all God’s notes be joined as one
Slide heavenward and converge!
And when we’ve emptied out our lungs
And, Lord, can sing no more,
We’ll quench our lasting thirst for thee
In the ’olly Bush next door.”

37 Holly Bush Street,
a few doors down from Dingley’s,
source of kali and sherbet dabs
and chocolate drops sold singly.
And there goes Alice in carpet slippers,
fulfilling her daily pledge,
striding uphill to a soul in need
with a plate full of meat and two veg.
And late in the darkness goes ‘Uncle’ George
who brought in the coal at New Year.
As he rolls down the road with his darling Gladys,
piercing the closing-time air
comes “Good night, Gladys!” and “Goodnight, George!”
all down the street and beyond,
echoing through the silent years
till front doors bang shut and are gone.

37 Holly Bush Street,
the heart of a microcosm,
from the boy who dribbled and never grew old
to the woman who flaunted her bosom.
And one day they shovelled us into a heap
and threw all the pavements away,
stopping just short of the pub and the Mission,
but leaving me nowhere to play.

© Heather Wastie

A different way of sharing history

As well as writing poetry and songs which share oral history, I’m involved in a project at Croome Court in Worcestershire, devising and performing pieces which share history through site specific theatre. I am one of a group of 8 actors who have been developing new material and then performing it since January. Currently there are 2 plays being performed on Sundays: I play the part of the Cook in Minnie and the Jollop and my next performances are on Sunday July 27th at 11.15, 1.00, 2.00 & 3.00. Here’s the website for details of admission prices https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome/

The Croome grounds are absolutely stunning, so if you fancy a day out with a difference, I recommend it. Our project is called Croome Encounters. Last Friday, we performed both plays to an invited audience of Croome volunteers and staff and had this wonderful feedback:

  • I would  like to thank you personally for providing the opportunity for us all to share in the brilliant ‘enactments’ this evening. They are a superb addition to the Croome experience.
  • What an enjoyable time I had travelling back in time with the excellent actors bringing a little of Croome history to life whilst entertaining us in quite a humorous way.
  • A big thank you for the special performance for volunteers on Friday evening. It was a hugely enjoyable occasion and I am very pleased so many of us were there. I thought the performers were excellent.
  • I especially enjoyed the way the historical details were woven into the script and the shifting of the scenery, with the actors inviting the audience to follow them, kept things on the move and was a lot of fun.
  • It is not surprising that our visitors are enjoying them – we certainly did.
  • Enjoyed the “Encounters” enormously. Those volunteers who haven’t seen them don’t know what they are missing. I’m so glad we came. Congratulations to all involved.

 

Weaving Yarns in Bristol & a poem about Floors

Photo of carpet forestDuring last year’s Kidderminster Arts Festival, some of my Weaving Yarns work could be heard in a forest made of carpet which transformed Kidderminster Town Hall. The forest was such a beautiful and relaxing place to be that people spent time sitting under the trees, even taking in picnics. It was magical. Here’s what Loz Samuels, whose idea the installation was, said about my contribution:

Having Weaving Yarns as an element of our Carpet Forest installation was a gift, and in turn gave a fantastic environment to showcase a taster of this work. The recordings on mp3s hidden in bird-boxes gave the public another element to interact with and on listening a sudden insight into the real heart of the work.

There’s now another chance to experience the carpet forest, this time in Bristol as part of the Easton Arts Trail at All Hallows Hall, 13 All Hallows Road, Bristol BS5 0HH from 6th to 15th June. See http://www.eastonartstrail.co.uk/pics/EAT-MAP-BACK-2014-jpg-A4.jpg for further info.

Here now is a poem which has no carpets, just floor boards. I wrote it after chatting briefly to a couple who were sat on the doorstep of their small, old house drinking tea.

Floors

We’re having a party
to celebrate
having floors.

Before today
we had windows,
walls and doors

and a roof
(though the sky
is our limit)

a house
that was empty
apart from our dreams

(the two of us
sitting on chairs
slipping off shoes)

We’re having a party,
drinking tea,
looking through doors
admiring our lovely new floors.

© Heather Wastie

Performance for World Book Night Wednesday 23rd April

Tomorrow, for World Book Night, I’ll be performing humorous poetry and songs at Sandwell Central Library, High Street, West Bromwich B70 8DZ. The event starts at 6.30 and I’ll be entertaining for 45 minutes or so, followed, I believe, by some more live music until about 8.00. Admission is £2.50 and proceeds go to Acorns Hospice. If you need further information call 0121 569 4904  or email central_library@sandwell.gov.uk. Otherwise please just come along!

Here’s a carpet-related poem from my first book Until I saw your foot: The vacuum-cleaner tuner. I’ll be performing it tomorrow! The lovely illustrations are by John Greaves Smith.

The vacuum cleaner tuner

from Until I saw your foot (click to enlarge)

Lament for the Library Gallery

I wrote this lament when we were fighting to stop Worcestershire County Council closing Kidderminster Library Gallery. Sadly we lost, and the Gallery has been converted into offices. I’ll leave it to the Lament to explain what happened.

I am running some poetry workshops over the coming months, starting with one next Tuesday morning 10.30-12.30 at the New Meeting House, Church Street, Bull Ring, Kidderminster DY10 2AR. See the Feedback page of this blog for reviews of my previous workshops. I welcome people of all abilities from beginners to more experienced to Learn from other poets’ work, Write our own and Share some of what we have written in a relaxed, friendly environment. Each workshop will be self-contained and cost £10. Future sessions are Wednesdays 21st May & 9th July 7.30-9.30pm. See http://kidderminster-creatives.org.uk/uncategorized/poetry-workshops-2/ for more information.

For a diary of my forthcoming performances, see http://www.wastiesspace.co.uk/Wasties_Space/DIARY.html.

CMS 2

CMS 4

“Without art and industry we die” Painting by Kay Wood

A Campaigner’s Lament

They had a lovely library
in Kidderminster town
but the council said the roof leaked
so they knocked the library down.

The locals had protested
and the council were quite miffed.
The building was Victorian
and very hard to shift.

They said they’d build a new one
with a swanky gallery,
applied for lots of money
from the National Lottery.

The Arts Council approved it,
delivering such wealth
knowing that art and music
are good for people’s health.

And so the gallery made up
for the council’s big mistake.
A Steinway grand piano
was the icing on the cake.

Architects designed the room
so nothing could compete
with its excellent acoustic.
Humidity and heat

were tempered for the Steinway,
a special piece of kit.
You’d think the county council
would be very proud of it,

an asset to the county
and its economy,
of national significance,
a public facility

where visitors can stand well back
and contemplate the art;
a peaceful place, away from noise,
to calm a frantic heart.

Without this precious venue
there’d be an aching gap -
musicians come from far afield,
put Kiddy on the cultural map.

But after less than twenty years,
the council looked about
for savings from their budget
and they kicked the Steinway out.

They hadn’t made the most of it,
they hadn’t publicised
the jewel of the county
so it came as no surprise

that the Gallery was underused.
The council didn’t care.
“If we were building now” they said
“we wouldn’t put it there.”

They filled the Gallery with desks
and said they’d ‘reprovide’
a room for hanging pictures
with much less space inside.

The locals had protested
and the council were upset:
“How dare you sing your songs at us!”
The town will not forget.

© Heather Wastie
October 2012

The Bleeding Hearts 3P1040185

 

 

 

408 engagement 10

 

 

Blame the weather man

The very first image which sparked off my interest in writing about Kidderminster and the carpet industry was one presented by Melvyn Thompson during a tour of the town. He talked about dyes from the various factories combining their colours in the River Stour. Very recently I was sent a poem about The Stour which includes that image so I have added it to the collection of writing by others on the Your Stories page, with thanks to Roger Mathews.

Since we’re on the subject of rivers, I wrote a piece recently which refers to the flooding issues along the River Severn. It also collects together quirky quotes from TV weather presenters. The verses are spoken and the chorus (in italics) sung. I sang it at Mouth and Music (www.mouthandmusic.co.uk) and hope to perform it again some time!

Blame the Weatherman

There are a few teething problems with Spring.
The winds are up to no good
and there’s some unctuous warm air
- a weather sandwich.

The barriers are up in Bewdley,
Worcester racecourse is inundated,
the long range weather forecast
is for a 6 week hose pipe ban

so there’s no need to dredge the rivers
and there’s no point clearing out the bridge holes,
water water everywhere
and no-one will carry the can

It’s all down to global warming
that the ice is melting in our greenhouse,
the shifting winds will blow your house down.
Blame the weather man.

Hail and hurricanes and earthquakes -
Blame the weather man
(or the weather girl)
Blame the weather man.

The sunshine’s been in the shadows.
There’ll be rain romping in from the west on Wednesday;
It’ll be a real windscreen wiper of a morning.
There’ll be a psychedelic storm followed by some cool days.

We’ve got weather in the forecast today.
It’s going to throw lots of things at us.
The showers could be quite punchy
but we’ll be shoe-horning in some sun.

There’ll be some usable weather flirting with the south coast -
crisp, cold and deliciously sunny.
In the Midlands there’ll be a disappointing fog
and some clearly not helpful rain.

Today will be jam packed with plenty of weather;
I’ve been going mad with the crayons!
It will be colder than the figures on the weather map
due to cold air.
It’ll be 10 degrees. But it will feel like 9.

© Heather Wastie
March 2014