An extract from Bella
R. M. Francis
I remember drivin’ up from The Delph towards Cradley, an’ we were stopped at the lights at the top ‘a Quarry Bank. Tony was with me an’ ‘e’d pointed it out. Iss a crossroads ‘ere an’ iss all concrete, brick, tarmac. Iss grey, cold an’ stoney. Back in the day they’d mek nails an’ chain if ya went down one road, an’ they’d mek glass if you turned around. Most ‘a that ‘ad died out so it was just a shadow of a place. A place you used to get somewhere else. A dried industrial space that day mean nothin’ else. The lights at Quarry Bank am four-way with three lanes at each openin’, iss busy wi’ people headin’ to the shops, to work, iss always busy an’ ya never gerr’across, you’ve always gorra wait. It ay nothin’ ‘cept a border between a couple a places that ay proper towns any road. Tony was wi’ me an’ ‘e sid it.
See, ‘round ‘ere weem always lookin’ back. Weem built from what come before us. Chains, steel, nails. Soot an’ smoke in the skies. Most of iss gone now. We’ve still got red bricks an’ concrete, corrugated metal an’ all that. But we ay got forges. We ay got mystic blacksmiths. We’ve got almost barren high streets. We’ve got slick, glass, brass an’ plastic we’ve built over the works with – stockin’ rows of dead ‘eaded credit controllers, PPI reps, retail consultants. We’ve got Merry Hill – an indoor town that spreads out in sanitised pound-zones. Then there’s what’s left. Little dry suburbs that sink between ‘ills, where dead factories am wrapped in weeds, an’ big ‘ousin’ estates, all wet an’ grey, an’ all punctured in electric light – them no go zones unless you’m from theya – each zone ‘as iss own ‘alf deserted Labour club, iss own brand a’ menacin’ teen, iss own birr’a cut or brook or strange patch a’ green land that mopes between a terrace row an’ the mechanic’s.
Tony was wi’ me an’ ‘e sid it.
Pokin’ out through a crack in the curb was a thin, green vine, an’ on the vine were tiny green tomatoes. Tony said it was like Detroit, ‘ow it was the biggest industrial hub in the US, ‘ow nature ‘ad started to claim back the city now it’d run iss course. There was summat frightnin’ about that, it come out ‘a the ground, thass what them meant to do, but it was meant to be ground controlled by us, not weeds. I wondered what else was lurkin’ under our industry, waitin’ to come back. It med me think of Saltwells an’ where wid play when we was kids.
R. M. Francis is co-editor of Writing the Black Country. Currently researching his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton, he’s the author of two chapbooks of poetry – Transitions (The Black Light engine Room, 2015) and Orpheus (Lapwing Publications, 2016). His first full length collection, Subsidence, is due out with Smokestack Books in the near future.