Continuing the second series of the offbeat HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
In Episode 35, there’s birthday memories, a famous correspondent passes by, tips for armchair sports fans, a reader recalls a royal, the battle for Batley, how storytellers rule the world, a Covid denier, a changing view of changelings, Covid cases rising and a tour of Open Studios.
Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 35: Lockdown diary
Monday, 12 July 2021
And then we were four
PW was out shopping when I decided to shave my moustache off. When she came in she screamed and dropped her shopping bags. She’d never seen me without my whiskers. She maintains the shock led to her waters breaking. A friend who was a nurse at the hospital did a double take when she saw me and said I looked like PW’s toyboy. Today Jude is 33.
Tuesday, June 29th
I was sitting outside the Swan with Jude, when Gary Donohue, BBC Chief USA correspondent, went past with his wife and his white stick. Gary once made a speech at a White House Reception about the challenges of being a blind reporter. When he started out technology was very basic. He’d get colleagues to read his messages to him. “One could, of course, take all the bits of paper home for a girlfriend to read, but I'm pretty sure one left because asking her to read a wedge of newspaper cuttings in bed wasn't the most alluring offer she could have from a guy - right?”
Tried all day not to think about the Germany game, but I must have been nervous, because at tea time I couldn’t eat my pasta. At the start of the championship, Pritti Patel and Boris Johnson said supporters were right to boo players who take the knee. How refreshing it’s been to see most supporters applauding the gesture. When Sterling scored our first goal, I shouted so loudly it took a few moments for PW and the cat to land again.
Wednesday, June 30th
Wandering home on a sultry evening, I was surprised to hear a woman’s ecstatic shouts through the open door of a house not far from here. “Yes! Yes! Yes! Oh Yes!!!”
Raced home to ask if said neighbour had a new partner, but found PW watching the Andy Murray match and realised it was just a case of Wimbledon mania.
Thursday, July 1st
A reader writes
Today the royal princes unveiled a rather naff statue to their mum. Interestingly, it was on this date that her ex once had his own special ceremony. Pete Jackson writes:
The last time I visited Caernarvon was the day Charles was made Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, 1st July 1969 … Looking back 52 years … I remember 2 things about the day. Two things passed me by and one thing remains unresolved business in my mind … My dad rescued a young lad who had got trapped in sinking sand on the estuary. Watched by thousands of royalists and nationalists gathered on the walls of the Castle, my dad used 2 scaffolding planks to slide through the rising tide over the sticky mud to pull the lad out who by this time was up to his waist, just able to wave his arms. The crowd from both sides applauded as the lad was reunited with his parents.
The second was my gran standing next to a lampost on the front and a dog missing his target and drenching my gran’s leg. She laughed as we all did.
What I don’t remember is on the eve of the investiture, two nationalist bombers being killed whilst placing a bomb outside government offices in Abergele. Or the claim that the KGB plotted to disrupt proceedings by bombing a bridge in Portmadog.
Before my dad died I wrote to Prince Charles to ask him to posthumously recognise my dad for upstaging him on his investiture day and bringing the two sides together in witnessing a scene of bravery and of humanity. He is yet to reply.
If I was a dog and Prince Charles was a lamppost my aim would be true.
Friday, July 2nd
The battle for Batley
In a film, Kim Leadbeater would be the heroine and Galloway the dark hatted villain. A group of hostile, aggressive men had surrounded her on the campaign trail, despite Kim having a sister who was murdered by a violent right wing racist. At 5.25am I checked the headlines. Kim had won by 323 votes and Keir Starmer lived to fight another day! The BBC had expected a Tory triumph and they’d scheduled some guy from Momentum for a protracted discussion about the outcome. He seemed gutted that his party had won.
Don’t pass it on
Gossiped beside the river with John, Heather and Rob. I noticed how sometimes my gossip starts with, “This is a secret, so don’t pass it on.” Then I pass it on.
Saturday, June 2nd
Storytellers rule the world
I’ve been asking friends to recommend summer reading.* Dave Jackson enjoyed Sapiens - and so did Barack Obama. The subtitle is A brief history of humankind.
Yuval Harari explains how a chance genetic mutation 70,000 years ago enabled homo sapiens to rule the world by telling tales. This new loquacity not only allowed us to gossip and moan about the weather, the gift of the gab enabled local rulers to gain mass appeal through inventing myths, including that one about their divine right to rule. Religious prophets gained disciples through creation myths and the communal worship of imaginary gods. Soon people began to identify with these mantras and myths and felt attachment to a tribe, or ‘nation’ and not just their own kith and kin. Through storytelling, sapiens could act en masse. At first they just trounced Neanderthals and wiped out other types of human, later on - ‘with God on their side’ - they conquered foreign lands and non believers.
Sunday, June 4th
A youngish feller on Bridge Street was gathering names of COVID non believers. There were hundreds of day trippers in town, but only four signatures on his sheet. I asked if I could take his photograph and he said, “Yes, if you don’t work for a newspaper.” After our chat I jotted down my recollections of our discussion:
“Do you really believe Covid was dreamt up by governments all round the world?”
“Why do you think scientists and doctors go along with this conspiracy?”
“To protect their jobs.”
“Why are you against vaccinations?”
“The theory of germs has never even been proven.”
“What about the eradication of smallpox?”
“You should go to a meeting to hear the real truth.”
“Why do you believe your speakers, and not the majority of experts?”
“Those people are in the pay of the pharmaceutical companies”
“Do you ever worry that you might be harming other people?
“I’ve given it some thought.”
I got back just before the flash flood and listened to Private Passions, on Radio 3. As well as choosing her favourite music, Irish psychiatrist Veronica O’Keane, said having her own children grow into young adults really brought home to her the devastating impact on the parents of children who reach 18 and are afflicted by schizophrenia, as well as the sufferer, whose life chances are changed for ever. The condition is quite common … it affects one person in a hundred. It’s as common as type 1 diabetes.
She also discussed a woman she calls Edith, who experienced postpartum psychosis. She believed her baby was the devil and her husband was a substitute. Edith passed a graveyard on the way to their first meeting. She saw a tilted tombstone in which she thought her real baby was buried. When she was challenged about this at a later meeting, she acknowledged, “the facts weren’t real, but the memory was.”
Monday, July 5th
Thinking about Edith’s story reminded me of a tale in German Legends, collected by Jacob and William Grimm, which they took at face value.
A changeling is beaten with a switch
The following true story took place in the year 1580. Near Breslau there lived a distinguished nobleman who had a large crop of hay every summer which his subjects were required to harvest for him. One year there was a new mother among his harvest workers, a woman who had barely had a week to recover from the birth of her child. When she saw that she could not refuse the nobleman's decree, she took her child with her, placed it on a small clump of grass, and left it alone while she helped with the haymaking. After she had worked a good while, she returned to her child to nurse it. She looked at it, screamed aloud, hit her hands together above her head, and cried out in despair, that this was not her child: it sucked the milk from her so greedily and howled in such an inhuman manner that it was nothing like the child she knew.
As is usual in such cases, she kept the child for several days, but it was so ill-behaved that the good woman nearly collapsed. She told her story to the nobleman. He said to her: "Woman, if you think that this is not your child, then do this one thing. Take it out to the meadow where you left your previous child and beat it hard with a switch. Then you will witness a miracle."
The woman followed the nobleman's advice. She went out and beat the child with a switch until it screamed loudly. Then the Devil brought back her stolen child, saying: "There, you have it!" And with that he took his own child away. This story is often told and is known by both the young and the old in and around Breslau.
Changeling stories and autism
Changelings are often described as having poor response, resistance to physical affection, an inability to express emotions, a habit of crying inexplicably and having physical deformities. Some are unable to speak. Sometimes the change occurs after a period of ‘normalcy’. In other words, children described as changelings exhibit behaviours similar to some forms of autism.
Changeling tales are an enduring myth. Thomas Hobbes noted in the 1650s that the myth was sometimes used to excuse abusive behaviour towards disabled children. It could even lead to the murder of an inconvenient child. Such legends continue to this day in some parts of the world. In 1980, Hasan M. El-Shamy wrote, “The belief that the djinn can steal a human baby and put his own child in its place is widespread in many parts of Egypt.”
Many changeling tales include the abandonment of children in the forest, including Hansel and Gretel or Tom Thumb, but this is replicated in real life by real cases of children found wandering around abandoned. It’s been suspected that Victor de Aveyron and Caspar Hauser were autistic.
Tuesday, July 5th
To The Old Gate to celebrate darling daughter’s birthday. She was born on the palindromic date of 6/7/76. She was 6lbs and I weighed 7 stone, having had pneumonia in the hottest driest summer on record. As I recall PW was also involved.
Storyteller Shonaleigh, a Shaggy Dog regular, has a birthday this week. She’s a rare and brilliant exponent of the Drut’syla tradition of Jewish storytelling. I remember at one of her Stubbing Wharf gigs she prefaced her performance by telling us about an occasion when she was late for a gig, because of a tailback on the motorway. She became desperate for a wee and as soon as she could she turned off down a slip road. Her headlights made out some modern warehouse buildings, and as there was nobody about, she decided to snatch a wee next to one of them. She had just got things flowing when the dark corner she’d found was lit up by brilliant industrial floodlighting. She imagined the security guards having a laugh at her expense, as she dashed back to her car.
She hated being late. She drove across country and managed to park in a side street near the venue as the arts centre car park was full. She hurriedly found their reception phone number and rang as she ran along.
“I’m coming … (gulps and heavy breathing).”
A voice answered, “Hello, who is this please?”
“I’m coming!” More heavy breathing.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Huh … huh … huh … I’m coming!!!”
The guy in reception slammed the phone down.
Wednesday, July 8th
Surviving a semi-final
(Case study, England v Denmark)
I sat down with PW ten minutes before kick off. I can’t stand the adverts, the build up, or the commentators, so we just kept the subtitles on. In this way I kept my pulse down and my sense of perspective in place, and didn’t cry with despair when Denmark scored the first goal. Fortunately, we equalised before half time. I was just about to say to PW how well we’d manage to control our stress levels, when I noticed she was fast asleep.
Baddiel and Skinner
After the match, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner were picked out in the crowd, joining in with their Football’s coming home song.
I remembered the first time I saw Frank Skinner on TV. It was at the Edinburgh Festival, when he won best newcomer in the comedy category. They showed a clip on BBC where he said, “I was sitting on a bench not far from here, when this tramp, this gentleman of the road, came and sat next to me. I thought, fair enough, I’m broad minded. I’m a Guardian reader. But then he got the old penis out, and started giving it a bit of a pull, you know? I said, ‘Hey mate, keep your hands to yourself won’t yer’?”
Thursday, July 9th
Fish gates and fish
Men in yellow coats are engineering a fish gate on the weir near us, with the promise of salmon leaping upstream in future. Someone posted a note to say they hope the slope isn’t too steep, they did one at Callis Bridge and it was like a takeaway service for local herons.
At lunchtime I bought three sea bass from the market. I tipped Italy after the first game in the competition and I passed on Marco’s prediction “Football’s coming Rome,” to Zaffir and friend in the Square, before meeting Paul at Cafe Cali.
I like being near the river. Gradually, other cafes and bars in town are turning round and offering socially distanced diners some water to look at. I told Paul about the Irish psychiatrist I’d heard on the radio, who escapes from the pressures of her job by wild swimming, “it’s a new element, it’s like defying gravity, it’s the nearest we get to flying.”
Friday, July 10th
Met my friend Jim, who’s been a member of the Labour Party for 50 years and thinks they’re in a bad way - and it’s not really Starmer’s fault. He said he was door stepping in West Vale before the General Election and a guy his age said, “Yes, I’ll vote Labour, I’ve been a trade unionist all my life, but tell Jeremy Corbyn, we voted for Brexit and we expected that vote to be honoured.”
I thought yes, and Labour sounded as if they were saying, “We’re cleverer than you, and we know what’s good for you, so your vote doesn’t count.”
Saturday, July 11th
COVID cases rising
112 cases in Upper Calder yesterday. 333 per 100,000 in Calderdale, and rising. The government’s own polling shows 70 per cent of people are worried about dropping all safe distancing measures while half the population have yet to receive the double vaccination.
All round town folk followed intricate maps to discover the works of local artists in their studios. I was trying to find Kate Lycett’s studio when I met a group of lost tourists and led them down into town. Some bought paintings, some bought postcards and I took photographs.
Sunday, July 12th
They came, they saw, they conquered
At last. At a ripe old age, I was able to actually enjoy the tension, the drama and the intensity of a big England match, content in knowing the more courageous, experienced and battle hardened manager and team triumphed.
Anyway, that was just a warm up. World Cup next year.
A good listen
I’ve enjoyed listening to Frank Sinner’s delighted and engaging response to two poems by Hebden Bridge’s Peter Riley, who was featured in The HebWeb Interview recently.
The next episode will include more readers’ suggestions for summer reading. If you’d like to add your own thoughts on this or other matters, see contact details below. Thanks to those who have already sent in their good read recommendations - you haven’t been forgotten.
Murphy's Lore, the book is available to order here
If you would like to send a message about this piece or suggest ideas, email George Murphy
More Murphy's Lore
See the Murphy's Lore home page for all 86 episodes.