Continuing the second series of the offbeat HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
In Episode 28 of Lockdown Diaries, there’s badgers alive, dead and badgered; dogs brutish and brutalised; Algy and Helen; spouses’ grouses; pangolins and swallows; qualzucht; Liz and the White Swan; Back Answers and Readers Write.
Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 28: Lockdown diary
Monday, 5 April 2021
My neighbour Andrea Turpin waded into the River Calder fully clad to rescue a stranded badger cub. Not long after I’d congratulated her, I caught up with some local news and the first item that caught my attention was about a badger that had been shot and killed in Southowram.
I remember a report in the Evening Courier back in the 80s. Badger baiters in Landrovers drove onto farmland in Cragg Vale, and gathered around a badger sett. Mr Piggott, the landowner, was locking up when he noticed torch beams and giant shadows of men and dogs in his field. He made a phone call, then blocked the gateway to the field with a tractor, trapping the badger baiters, their Landrovers and dogs. Then he waited for the police to arrive.
Once there was a blood sport in which badgers were pitted against dogs. Badgers were chosen for this entertainment because of their tenacity when cornered, and for having the ability to bite their prey ‘until their teeth meet’. 'Badgering' became a term to denote this persecution. In the 1785 edition of the Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, ‘to badger’ was defined as ‘to confound, perplex, or teaze’. Another term was ‘badgering to death’. Badger baiting wasn’t banned until 1864.
Tuesday, March 23rd
Tonight we stood outside at 8pm and watched the fireworks above Crow Nest Wood, marking one year since the first lock down and commemorating the people who have died of COVID-19.
Two hundred years ago, John Clare described how ‘a host of dogs and men’ would ‘track a badger to his den’ and ‘put a sack within the hole and lie, Till the old grunting badger passes by,’ then they’d ‘get a forked stick to bear him down and clap the dogs and take him to the town and bait him all the day with many dogs’ …
The badger turns and drives them all away.
Though scarcely half as big, demure and small,
He fights with dogs for hours and beats them all.
The heavy mastiff, savage in the fray,
Lies down and licks his feet and turns away.
The bulldog knows his match and waxes cold,
The badger grins and never leaves his hold.
He drives the crowd and follows at their heels
And bites them through - the drunkard swears and reels
The frighted women take the boys away,
The blackguard laughs and hurries on the fray.
He tries to reach the woods, an awkward race,
But sticks and cudgels quickly stop the chase.
He turns again and drives the noisy crowd
And beats the many dogs in noises loud.
He drives away and beats them every one,
And then they loose them all and set them on.
He falls as dead and kicked by boys and men,
Then starts and grins and drives the crowd again;
Till kicked and torn and beaten out he lies
And leaves his hold and crackles, groans, and dies.
Wednesday, March 24th
PW was on the phone to the GP surgery for 40 minutes this morning. She started off at number 14 on the waiting list and stayed on the line, knowing she couldn’t miss having her next consignment of tablets. When she got to number 1 at last, she was told that they were too busy to deal with her. Online I discovered that scores of people have had the same experience. Like us, they don’t like to moan about their time being wasted because of the pressure of the pandemic on the NHS.
Dogs behaving (very) badly
We’re enjoying the telly series where affable Graeme Hall trains hapless dog owners. When I was a kid, dogs were allowed to roam freely, dog fights were common and dog shit had to be dodged on most pavements. Things have improved, and although some dogs are still allowed to howl and yap at anyone who happens to stroll past their abode, most are kept on leads when taken for walks, dog fights are rare, and dog turds are routinely bagged, and then hung from trees.
In Hebden Bridge, dogs are allowed to bring their owners into restaurants, on the strict understanding said owners do not interrupt their pets' natural inclination to forage for scraps under neighbouring tables. These free roaming hounds sometimes pop their doggy heads up between diners’ legs to demand tit bits - or other body parts.
In Haworth, when Emily Brontë kind heartedly offered a bowl of water to a drooling, tongue lolling stray, she was bitten on her arm and immediately rushed into the parsonage and seared the wound with red hot tongs from the kitchen fire. Neil Pemberton, in Mad Dogs and Englishmen, explains, ‘Rabies was seen as the disease of the North; Lancashire and the West Riding were seen as the rabies capitals.’ Until Pasteur produced his vaccine, cauterization was the only remedy.
Greame Hall wouldn’t have approved of Emily’s dog training methods. One day, Tabby, the Brontës’ housekeeper, complained that Emily’s bulldog Keeper was slumbering on Emily’s newly washed bedclothes. Emily went up and found Keeper sleeping there, dragged him yowling downstairs by his collar - leaving one hand free in case he attacked her - then ‘punched him in the eyes’ until he was thoroughly ‘mastered’.
Charlotte Brontë told Mrs Gaskell that Keeper owed Emily no grudge, ‘he loved her dearly after; he walked first among the mourners at her funeral; he slept moaning for nights at the door of her empty room.’ Here’s Emily’s painting of her beloved pet.
Gytrash were not men with lax morals, but gigantic, ghostly hounds that led lonely travellers astray. Their eyes were described as glowing like burning coals.
Jane Eyre saw what she believed to be a Gytrash one bleak, January evening as she was walking from Thornfield Hall. She observed, “I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees … a lion-like creature with long hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to look up, with strange pretercanine eyes.” Perhaps it ignored her because it was heading to the nearest restaurant.
Thursday, March 25th
At a zoom meeting with his backbenchers, Boris Johnson declared, "The reason we have the vaccine success is because of capitalism, because of greed, my friends.” But campaigners have pointed out that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that has been the dominant part of the UK's vaccine effort was developed by publicly funded university laboratories and is being sold at cost price.
Too soon for wotsits
Looking out from the top floor, I saw a group of birds and from their white underbellies and twirling, rapid flight I wondered if they were ‘wotsits’. I couldn’t recall their name! Then I remembered that the bird features in a children’s book I wrote and I went in search of it and gulped when I discovered its name. ‘Swallow!’
On What’sApp my friend Beryl confirmed it was too early for swallows or swifts to arrive. She mentioned martins. I suggested the Saharan dust might have driven them north. Perhaps they were an advance guard? She replied, ‘Are you sure they weren’t ducks?’
I’m enjoying looking at images from Kate Lycett’s Lost Houses exhibition. Here’s Cragg Hall, home of the notorious Hinchcliffe dynasty.
Friday, March 26th
Algernon Simpson-Hinchliffe was a 22 year old bank clerk when he married 48 year old Helen Hinchliffe of Cragg Hall, who had survived two previous marriages. Her family fortune was built on the back of Cragg Vale workers. As the local vicar had written in the previous century, "…they work 15 to 16 hours a day, and sometimes all night. Oh! It is a murderous system and the mill owners are the pest and disgrace of society."
One wonders what first attracted Algy to the wealthy heiress, Helen Hinchliffe.
Actually, the Simpson-Hinchliffe duo were more enlightened than previous Hinchliffe regimes. Children and servants were given treats at Christmas time and society evenings were held at the house, when guests were entertained by famous actors and singers.
During the Great War, Algy worked for the Red Cross in Verdun. His wife died in 1917 and left him over £75,000, a tidy sum at the time, plus Cragg Hall and Hinchliffe Mill. Fire gutted the Hall in 1921, when Algy was said to have rescued two maids from the inferno. Simpson-Hinchliffe moved back to Harrogate and lived on till 1963. His ashes were scattered on Blackstone Edge.
It seems that young Algernon (is that name due for a comeback?) was a caring, dutiful husband. Perhaps he read Don’ts for Husbands (1913), written by a Mrs Blanche Ebbutt, which had some handy tips:
“Don’t try to ‘drive’ your wife, it is much easier to ‘lead’ her.”
“Don’t begin your married life by expecting too much. If you expect little you will be spared a good deal of disappointment.”
Wise words. This handy little tome has inspired me to write a modern version. I’ve been preparing a section on ‘Date Nights’ and PW has suggested this should contain items aimed at older husbands, with tips on what she calls ‘Ambience’. I asked her for an example, and she offered:
“Don’t say, ‘Smell this, do you think this dressing-gown is a bit sweaty?”
Sunday, March 28th
It’s later than you think
Today, I went round changing the clocks and seemed to spend the rest of the day feeling a bit wound up.
I read that the WHO team reporting on the cause of the outbreak of COVID 19, believe the disease originally came from bats, but probably spread via an intermediate animal. The experts named candidate animals, including pangolins.
Pangolins are the most hunted animals in Africa. They use their long sticky tongue to reach into mounds to get a full meal. They close their eyes and nostrils while eating, to stop ants from entering their lungs and eyes. While feeding, they open their scales up, so that termites can get under them. When they are finished feeding, they close their scales, crushing the termites inside and then they go for a swim. While swimming, the termite's abrasive skin rubs against their scales and cleans them. They then open their scales, the termites fall out and and the pangolins gobble them up.
How clever is that? Imagine the satisfied look on their faces. It reminds me of that saying in Scotland, “Alex Salmond loves himself so much he could swallow his own bath water.” Well, Pangolins do that and make a proper meal of it.
In 2019, research indicated that 400,000 pangolins are hunted for their food in Africa every year. Some of the food ends up in wet markets, in places like Wuhan.
Tuesday, March 30
A gorgeous day. For the first time in ages, darling daughter and grandaughter paid a visit and we found a shady place in the garden to meet. Not only did the sun shine, but so did Kate Lycett in her whole hearted responses to The HebWeb Interview.
Wednesday, March 31st
Chief Pangolin (African)
Swallow flew over mountains, seas and deserts to her home in Africa, but before she reached her destination she flew into a storm, tumbled from the sky and landed exhausted in a bush. Pangolin brought her food and water and made a bed for Swallow with grass and feathers. Swallow fell asleep.
Next day, Pangolin went to the Chief Choosing place. All the animals gathered. Elephant said, “Welcome to Chief Choosing Day. I will throw the Choosing Ball into the air and the one who catches it will be the next Chief.”
Elephant threw the ball into the air. All the animals pushed and stretched and jumped and made so much dust that only Chief Elephant could see the ball. He reached his trunk upwards, but tiny swallow swooped down and caught the ball before Elephant could reach it and then she dropped it into the grasp of Pangolin!
All the animals cheered, except for Elephant who looked up to the sky for a long time. The animals crowned Great Chief Pangolin. How good it was to have a Chief who thought of others as well as herself.
Thursday, April 1st
Apparently, baby booming parents are finding that their offspring who have moved in with them during lockdown are enjoying the experience, acting like teenagers again and expecting their mums to run around after them, a right which should only really belong to their dads. Some show no sign of wanting to leave.
One couple told their bachelor son, he should go onto dating sites to find a partner, as one day he will need someone to attend to his needs. He filled in the forms and I noticed that under hobbies he put ‘stamp collecting’. I can tell you now Sunshine, when it comes to attracting a partner, philately will get you nowhere.
This is a German term meaning “torture breeding”. Flat faced dog breeds such as Pekinese, bulldogs and boxers are going blind. Deborah Ross in today’s Times writes, “Their skulls are now so distorted that their eyes protrude to the extent that they can’t close them properly, which causes corneal ulcers.” In Germany, Austria and Switzerland qualzucht are banned, and owners can get banged up for owning them. Over here they win rosettes at Crufts.
Friday, April 2nd
Liz at White Swan
White Swan landlady Liz, is featured in The Yorkshire Post. The longest-serving licensee in Hebden Bridge, has been given an award by Star Pubs and Bars. “Fight the good fight is my motto, so I’m remaining positive and planning a big party to celebrate the end of Covid when things get back to normal.”
She said, “It has been extremely hard for the regulars who live on their own. People are desperate for the pub to re-open and to meet up. I can’t wait to welcome them back,” said Liz. Hear, hear, and not just because my son, one of her regulars, has been counting down the days, but also because I meet there with my ukulele mates once a fortnight. Mind, we won’t be allowed inside for a good while yet, but it’s time to start practising. Now, where did I put my uke?
Saturday, April 3rd
I laughed at Geoff Norcott on The Now Show, digging at Labour Party members for wanting the return of Jeremy Corbyn - ‘the leader who thought the Salisbury poisonings should be investigated by the poisoners’. Norcott pointed out, it’s not such a big deal if the Tories want to fly Union Jacks from public buildings - the French fly the tricolour from every official building. The real purpose of all this sudden flying the flag is to draw out liberals and to label them as unpatriotic. Don’t let it bother you!
What’s happening, however, is that reports on race and policies on Foreign Aid, immigration and demonstrations are being skewed in the desire to provoke Labour onto a Woke agenda. Well, those are areas that do need to be opposed. Despite which, Labour’s main focus should continue to be on inequality and government sleaze. Even papers such as The Times are running detailed reports on dodgy lobbying and the millions misspent on PPE by members of the Chumocracy.
Sunday, April 4th
Here’s a gift for those who remember the popularity of the wireless in the 50s, and Robb Wilton rattling through three stories in 3 minutes. I love it not least for the response from the live studio audience.
In response to Episode 27:
Frances Robinson: Enjoyed reading it, as ever, George
Dave Jackson: Excellent again, George
In response to my interview with Kate Lycett:
Bob Horne: Lovely, George (and Kate). Enjoyed this, and the paintings are wonderful.
Jean Smith: loved these pictures and really enjoyed your article.
Thanks to writer and photographer Tamsen Courtenay, for the image seen in Episode 27. Her current work includes reactions to Covid, spring and Rome, and can be found at stonelensphotography.com Here’s an image called Breath from her powerfule responses to the pandemic:
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