by Lee Armstrong
We never minded the
misnomer, to us the name was always
Sunday; Nan Sunday, licensed to make tea.
But it was Saturday afternoons we strained
uphill in one of Dad’s asthmatic bangers –
starts first time, just needs the right amount of
choke – a cargo of fish and chips and a
doorstop loaf from Singh’s.
Wheezing our way to the
top o’ the Wrenna, the streets receded
into quarry; a limestone bald-spot in a
comb-over of council-houses.
‘Wren’s Nest’ was reserved for foreigners;
the fossil hunters and nature walkers who
performed strange rituals on
By the time we stopped,
She’d be stood in the
doorway; head bobbing above the
parapet of green privet. Moon-faced, cheeks
a watercolour pink. Guardian at the
last bastion of carbolic soap and the
beef dripping piecey; keeper
of the crocheted doily.
We watched the wrestling
while the grown-ups stitched tales of
people we barely knew; like characters
in some half-forgotten book. Every
sentence a Black Country sol-fa:
dow, bay, cor, yow, goo, day, gi.
Language bent out of shape; hammered by
tongues on time-old anvils.
Whistled by the kettle,
she’d disappear into the kitchen,
where a sink-full of whites soaked for
eternity, and a mangle dreamed of museums.
Then return with a fistful of china,
fingers like thick sausages, forearms
crying out for a tattoed anchor.
A teapot carrying a teapot.
We got the call on a Sunday night,
As if she had a point to prove.
A thousand shibboleths laid to rest.
Consigned to memory. Compressed in rock.
But I go there often these days, that sudden
yearning for grey paes, or trilobite
words that escape from the cairke-hole,
like crumbs of DNA.
This evocative poem is the work of Lee Armstrong, a Dudley based writer, currently studying at Newman University in English and Creative Writing. We at WtBC, are thrilled to be one of the first to present his work to the world.
Much like the famous fossils on the Wrenna, Armstrong gives us a glimpse of time stood still – of history both personal and social. He takes us all to Sunday Tea at Nan’s, a nostalgic and cosy realm of homecooked foods, of wenches who are as tough as they are loving. In doing this, Armstrong avoids Betjeman-esque tweeness and oversentimtality, instead allowing the images, and their contradictory companion images to do the ‘spaykin’. There is real joy in his playfulness of language too – the ‘asthmatic banger’ that just needs the ‘right amount of choke’, the ‘crotcheted doily’ that sits amongst ‘stitched tales’. What is most beautiful and exciting about this piece is the fusion made between the vernacular, heritage, landscape and memory. The space shared between ‘grey paes’, ‘cairke-hole’ ‘trilobites’ and ‘time-old anvils’ acts as a poetic discussion of an almost undefinable, invisible Black Countryness – one we natives know very well, but struggle to set down. Armstrong sets it down – it’s part-mythic, part-historical, part-freeflowing, part-fossilised. Keep your eyes peeled for more from this incredible talent, his future in literature looks very bright.