Black Country fiction: Gooseflesh, by Michael Jarvie

In memoriam Kassamali Moledina and Amirali Moledina

One of those familiar poles, with alternating bands of red and white, can be found outside the barber’s shop on the Soho Road in Handsworth. Its semiotic significance has always been eclipsed by the remarkable optical illusion of upward movement of the helicoidal stripes, which in reality are only travelling about the axis.

In the display window I can see an array of items arranged on glass shelves: aftershave lotion, coconut hair oil, shampoo bottles; cans of hairspray, disposable razors, a pack of shaving brushes; a chromium-plated mirror, packets of contraceptives, black nylon combs.

I come here about once a month. The barber pronounces ‘hair cut’ as ‘air cut’. Tufts of what appear to be steel wool frame his tonsure. Once I’m settled in the chair he covers me with a white nylon sheet and puts a black yoke over my shoulders before he sets to work.

The vibrating diaphragm inside the transistor radio emits a comforting babble, but the drone of the electric clippers never fails to annoy me − a swarm of wasps buzzing in my ears. I prefer it when he uses the scissors instead. Throughout the procedure he manipulates my head up and down as though arranging a tableau vivant.

After he has stropped the blade of the cutthroat on a leather strap the barber scrapes away the hairs on the back of my neck with a surgeon’s precision. Then he holds up a mirror behind my head, moving it adroitly from side to side as he awaits my nod of approval. Finally, he unshrouds me and hands me a paper tissue. Soon I’m outside again, screwing up my eyes against the lacerating brightness of a September afternoon.

Hours later I’m standing at the gate in Westminster Road, when it happens. About to turn right, I experience the strangest sensation; the gooseflesh that creeps over my skin is a manifestation of the uncanny rupturing the fabric of reality.

My body swings me definitively to the left, the direction Dante takes with Virgil down through the circles of hell. I turn into Putney Road, still puzzled by this message from the primordial part of my brain.

It’s just after seven o’clock on a Monday evening and I’ve been out of work for more than two years. The miners — that heavy brigade of the working class — have already been eviscerated. No haruspex is required to examine their smoking entrails. They have returned to their underground burrows while they are still able to do so. They remind me of the enslaved Nibelungs in Wagner’s Das Rheingold, except Alberich is no longer a whip-wielding dwarf. He’s become a woman with a bouffant hairstyle who is taking elocution lessons to deepen her hectoring voice.

I stroll back home with two cans of Kestrel lager and a packet of Refreshers jostling together in the bottom of my carrier bag. As I walk, I try to work out what has just happened. Later, I wonder if it was a premonition. At such a distance my hearing certainly wasn’t acute enough to pick up the sound of breaking glass, nor was my sense of smell sufficiently sensitive to the smoke molecules rising in the air less than half a mile away.

When I reach my shitty bedsit with its threadbare settee, Erika typewriter and MFI desk, the radio crackles menacingly like a forest fire. There’s the clanging of fire engines and police cars in the distance. Despite the sense of incipient danger, I feel an urge to go back out into the evening. But to do what exactly?

I remain beside the window as darkness falls. Like the radio, my body is tuned into vibrations of discontent and violence, though I remain completely unaware of the tragic events about to destroy two innocent lives.



Michael Jarvie was born in Darlington, County Durham, in 1958. He read English Language and Literature at Birmingham City University and graduated with a 2:1 in 1983. After completing his studies he lived in Birmingham for a further five years. In 2015 he obtained a Masters Degree in Creative Writing (with Distinction)from Teesside University. He is the author of a collection of twelve stories entitled The Prison and a novel, Black Art.

Banner image: Birmingham Mail

Anything fa yow, cupcake…a poem by Matt Black

Anything fa yow, cupcake?

(a TV advert, featuring exaggerated Birmingham accents, received overwhelmingly negative feedback from Birmingham locals and further afield) 

The yampy press said, this sounds thick,
This bostin’ early English music

How we write it, how we say it,
How we posh it up, or everyday it

Geordie, Scous, Yam Yam, Brum,
Don’t unstitch my vowels from my tongue

Dialects from Cockney to Creole,
One hundred words for one bread roll

One hundred languages in every body
From Zanzibar to Kirkcaldie

Each house a wordhoard, what Gran said,
What makes Kyle Kyle, the gob on Fred

Our words ūz, but only the tip,
Note from the throat, leap of a lip

Passing ship’s journey of intent,
Gesture’s wink to what you meant

Dialect, second language or RP,
I won’t judge you, if you don’t judge me

But if you do talk posh, and I’m plastered –
You’ve got a bob on yourself, you rich bastard

Don’t level the trills, flatten the picture,
On the kaylighed hills the waerld is richer

They don’t understand? Well tough, m’ dears,
It’s nae yure accent, it’s their ears

So let’s beat the drum for Brummie,
Mumbly, bumbly and knowingly funny

And to be who you are, who I am,
Sing the fettle fittle of Yam Yam,

It’s ow we spake, bab, where we are from,
Ode suck from the cake-hole of our Mom.


Matt Black


Yampy – stupid
Kaylighed – intoxicated
Fettle fittle – excellent food
YamYams – Black country dialect speakers, because they say I am, You Am, She Am. Black country dialect is widely held to be the closest English we have to English spoken in the Middle Ages.
Suck – sweets



Matt Black lives in Leamington Spa, writes poems for adults and children, and was Derbyshire Poet Laureate (2011-2013). His recent collections are Spoon Rebellion (Smith Doorstop, 2017) and Tales from the Leaking Boot (Iron Press, 2018). He works on commissions, and as a visiting writer in schools, and his play The Storm Officer is touring in 2018.

Matt is performing at Ledbury Poetry Festival on 1 July, and can currently be found up a ladder at The Tree House Bookshop, Kenilworth.