Tuesday, 5 March 2019
This is number ten of a regular column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
Murphy’s Lore 10
IT girl and the Pharoah
My present wife dreamt she stole the word IT. She made a safe getaway in a taxi before she could be apprehended. People were angry and felt quite lost without [..].
We mentioned PW’s dream to our friends Peter, an eminent author, and his wife Beryl. Beryl told us a story related by Peter’s first wife, who dreamt that she was a Great Pharoah. One day she went out onto a balcony, expecting to be lauded by mutlitudes of her people, but instead was pelted with splats of camel dung by an angry mob. She woke up with a start and slowly realised she wasn’t a Pharoah after all - and the eminent author was farting in his sleep.
Stories we tell ourselves
John Killick of Slater Bank worked as a Prison Educator at Wakefield HMP for years, published slim volumes of poetry, founded and inspired the Northern Association of Writers in Education and ran a writers group, to which I belonged. Later on, his work in care homes was meticulously recorded and became recognised by universities - where he became a noted authority. John found patterns in the speech of his interviewees and presented their recorded words in striking and beguiling free verse, to indicate that the residents still had a fragmentary sense of self. Others have dismissed his views as wishful thinking.
If it’s partly through our personal stories that we develop our view of who we are, equally interesting is the notion that our stories can trap us. Scientists say our sense of a continuous, coherent ‘Self’ is a false construct, a fictional character of our own making. We can change who we are because we aren’t.
20 years ago I was looking into the fridge with my son, who wanted a coke. He said, 'Why can't you be a proper dad?'
I said, ’What d'yer mean?’
He said, ’Proper dads have tattoos and cans of lager and pop in the fridge.' He cited his mate’s step dad, who owned a large and terrifying Alsatian, but kept an exemplary fridge.
Last week he told me his mate lived down south now. I asked what happened to his step dad.
‘He’s in prison for a double murder.’
Local activists have plastered the walls and lamp posts and the outside of neighbouring windows around Burnley Road primary school with posters proclaiming: STOP HAVING CHILDREN: SAVE THE PLANET. Collecting our daughter’s little nipper, I wonder what the kids who can read capital letters make of this message that they are wrecking the planet by their existence, their parents should be ashamed for having them - and by the way - don’t even think about having your own kids one day. I imagine our Eco Warriors think they should take on the infants first - the international corporations can wait.
Rosie didn’t notice the posters. She’s only 5 but she’s picked up on the panic about a fictional character. She says, ‘Grandad, I know it’s just someone wearing a mask, but can I see a photo of MoMo?’
As soon as something gets banned it becomes fascinating.
General paralysis of the insane
A long lost cousin got in touch. Jean told me the true story of my grandad, George Mason, who died before I was born. I’ve always been told that George never had a day’s illness, but one day he just fell down dead. But Jean told me the story told by her mum - my Aunty Joan.
Joan remembered going home one day and finding her dad sitting motionless at the kitchen table. He said he’d seen a terrible car crash and he thought he had caused it. They couldn’t get any sense out of him and a doctor was called. Eventually he was taken into Deva Psychiatric Hospital in Chester. When Joan visited, she gave her dad a boiled sweet and he popped it into his mouth with the wrapper still on.
My grandad died from ‘general paralysis of the insane’, probably contracted as a young soldier in the First World War. This infection can lay dormant in the system for decades. Long after the war, thousands of ex-servicemen suffered the terrible symptoms: sudden psychotic delusions and impaired movement. Once they became ill they died within months. Women who contracted the illness were often prostitutes, or wives of afflicted husbands. But it took till the late 1940s before the condition was recognised as late order syphillis and then it became curable by penicillin, the new wonder drug.
Watching the Peter Jackson WW1 documentaryThey Shall Not Grow Old, I listened to the stories from ex soldiers who had been taken to Parisian brothels as a treat, young lads who understood that they might only ever have one chance of having sex.
Here’s a damaged photograph of George and Violet Mason. They were aged 21 and on their honeymoon in Blackpool. Violet died a few years after George.
Don’t tell the men
Rizwana and her Aunt Fatimah were students on my Storytelling module. Fatimah told a tale about her life in Pakistan. Whilst the men went off to their jobs, the women in the village worked all day in the fields. In order to get through their work, some women sedated the youngest children with a single poppy grain on their tongues. Then the infant children slept through the hot afternoons. Once a child was given his dose by two aunties by mistake. That evening they couldn't rouse him, but they didn't tell their menfolk.
Next morning the boy awoke. The mums and aunts were more careful after that.
That showed her
Beware Grand Gestures! it's hard to believe now, but my present wife (PW) and I once had a row. It was in a Chinese restaurant in Durham in the 70s. I can't remember what it was about, but I'm sure I was in the right. I stormed out, only to find I'd exited into the restaurateur's private quarters.
A TV was playing and through a slightly open door I saw an old Chinese man, snoozing. Next to him a small boy stared at me. I gave him a little wave, modelled on the Queen's, and he waved hesitantly back.
I returned to my meal and didn't look at PW for some time.
Memorial Stone (see ML 9)
Mark Humphreys here - part time Hare n Hounds chef, part time Man They Couldn't Stand... *
As I recall, the memorial stone at the Withens read:
"Here lie the remains of Wallet and Dart
Who in their last race made a capital start
Their owners lamented they could not get through it
And both dogs were drowned in Thornton Conduit"
I used to frequent the Withens, but knew nothing of this tragedy until 1984 when I first read 'A Springtime Saunter' by Whiteley Turner (1913), which mentions the stone.
Obviously I had to go and find the stone, and I was pleased to do so. I've since shown it to various folks but have to confess I haven't done so since the Withens closed for business and the car park became a private garden.
This unseasonably nice weather is prompting thoughts of a springtime saunter of my own - I realise with some horror that it's now 35 years since I last followed in the footsteps of Whiteley Turner. I gave my copy of the book to a friend who emigrated to Australia and I've seen neither of them since.
I've just looked online for a copy of the book and have invested £5.26 so expect to be sauntering across the moors before long. You would be most welcome to join me, although I think some parts of the route may be inaccessible due to windfarms and wire fences.
* (Mark is is part of a local band called The Men They Can’t Stand - with Neil Bennett.)
If you would like to send a message about this piece or suggest ideas, email George Murphy