Writing in Black Country dialect

On Thursday night in Cradley Heath in the Black Country, where I grew up, I’m running a drop-in session to investigate whether or not the local dialect is dying out. I’ve been collecting dialect words and phrases by chatting to people, in person and on Facebook, and have been overwhelmed by the number of responses I’ve had.

As part of the Where’s Our Spake Gone? project, I’ve been commissioned by Rights & Equality Sandwell to create new work to be shared at another event in Cradley Heath, on Wednesday 6th April. (See http://ourspake.co.uk/) One thing about dialect is that it’s an oral language, so it’s tricky writing it down. Reading the Facebook comments, I’ve sometimes struggled to interpret the spelling, even though the dialect is familiar, because different people spell the same word in different ways, and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it.

Below is a poem I wrote for performance on International Mother Language Day last year when I was pleased to represent the Black Country at the new Library of Birmingham. The annual celebration is held on February 21st. Here’s the blog I wrote about it in 2015 https://weavingyarns1.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/international-mother-language-day/.

If you’re not from the Black Country, this poem will be difficult to understand. I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible whilst being true to the way it sounds when I perform it, and every time I type it out I change the spelling! I thought about adding translations of some of the words, and will be happy to do that if anyone asks. For the pedants (like me) it’s annoying that many of the apostrophes marking missing letters are the wrong way round but it would take me a while to sort that out. If you’ve ever used WordPress you’ll understand why! Anyway, here’s the poem. See what you make of it. (If you want a translation, some of it appears in plain English in my poem 37 Holly Bush Street https://weavingyarns1.wordpress.com/2016/01/14/wheres-our-spake-gone/)

Teks me back

This poem teks me back
ter terraced ‘ouses on an ‘ill
wi’ front rooms kept fer Sunday best
an’ big fat windersills.

This poem teks me back
ter coal in the coal ‘ole, wood in the stove,
an entry, a fode an’ an outside lew,
pikelets on a fork, toasted wi’ love.

This poem teks me back
ter disembodied voices torturin’ God
once a wik dahn the Mission,
the Valetin’ bull, the drap ommer’s thud.

This poem teks me back
tew Alice marchin’ past our winder
tew ‘elp Mr Williams who’s short o’ one leg,
tekkin ‘im mate an’ tew veg fer ‘is jinner.

This poem teks me back
ter th’ooman oo wanted ter borry our phone
ter mek assignairtions wi’ men
cuz ‘er day a’ one of ‘er own
(ne’er a mon, ne’er a phone).

This poem teks me back
ter trips up the road ter Dingley’s shap
where ah liked ter say “Cheese please Louise!”
(in me yed) as ‘er cut off a slab.

This poem teks me back
tew our pairnted lairdy wi’ pitch black ‘air,
a buxom wench, allez tarted up.
Ah con still see ‘er stondin’ theer.

This poem teks me back
ter the owny buildin’ still left stondin’,
the pub, thar ah day goo in as a child.
Bur ah dew now! Yo could call it ‘bondin’.

© Heather Wastie

Where’s our spake gone?

As regular readers of this blog will know, I lived in the Black Country until moving to Kidderminster in 2006. As a child, my home was in Holly Bush Street, Cradley Heath and right now I’m in search of the old spake! I’ve been commissioned to create new work for ‘Where’s Our Spake Gone?’, a Heritage Lottery project managed by Rights and Equality Sandwell, and want to talk to people born and raised in Cradley Heath who use local dialect.

Here are some of the things I’m interested in:

Is Black Country dialect dying out or still going strong?
What’s special about the Cradley Heath dialect?
Do older people who speak ‘broad’, talk to their children and grandchildren in dialect?

I’ll be talking to various groups of people, both adults and children, and am holding a public event in the Holly Bush pub, a short walk from where my house used to be. (Holly Bush Street was demolished in the 70s.) The event is on Thursday 11th February at the Holly Bush, 53 Newtown Lane, Cradley Heath B64 5EA. Drop in for a chat any time between 7.00 and 9.00pm. For those of you who use Facebook, here’s a link to the event there https://www.facebook.com/events/933776720023893/

Here’s one of several poems I’ve written in memory of Holly Bush Street, together with a short poem in dialect, about dialect.

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


Learnin ter spake

doh spake
cor spake
to spake

Yo spake
I spake
I spake
like yo

Babby grows
goz to skewl
learnin to spake

Yo spake
like I spake
an I spake
like yo

Babby grows
goz to uni
knows ow to spake

but yo doh spake
like I spake

so I speak like you.

© Heather Wastie