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Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Murphy's Lore

Number thirteen of the regular column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.

Murphy’s Lore 13

Flood control

Rain reigned, sirens sounded, rivers rose and news crews were choosing views. But then the rain pattered and petered, grannies and grandpianos were hoiked back downstairs as rivers shrunk and slowed and slunk. Next week, school children were asked to write poems entitled ‘Floods!’ using ‘lots of lovely alliteration’.

Last week’s precipitations made me think of Tony from Shaggy Dog Storytellers who was Chief Engineer, if I’m right, for the - no expenses spared - London Flood Barriers. Then I remembered Martin’s brother.

In the early 70s, my mate Martin (2.20 marathon man, but that’s not pertinent) told me his brother worked on the feasibility studies for the Thames Flood Barrier. In those pre-computer days, his research team made a model of the Thames Estuary that took up the top storey of a tower block in (I think) East Anglia University. It was a working model, with water driven by small motors to mimic the diurnal flow of rivers and tides. Despite the mathematical precision of this mini estuary, Martin’s brother and the other boffins were confounded each morning when their measurements of water levels didn’t tally with their projections.

The breakthrough came one evening. Martin’s brother, who was working alone and late, had popped into the gents. He came out just as a cleaner was filling her bucket with water from the Thames Estuary, just south of Clacton on Sea.

Date Nights

According to a recent survey, lesbians enjoy a better sex life than heterosexual women. However, straight men over the age of 64 are absolutely brilliant at pleasing their partners. I will not comment further on this superb and accurate survey, except to say, if my wife feels romantic, after a convivial Date Night, I’ve asked her to sing to me from the landing, if I’ve neglectfully stayed downstairs  …

'I am calling you ooh ooh ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh …'

To which I will duly reply, in a sexy, velvety baritone …

‘I’m watching Match of the Day ay ay ay, ay ay ay …’

An insurance man calls

Did you know, fellow offcumdens, that Norland is so called because, although it’s south of Soyland, it faces north - whilst Soyland is north of Norland, but faces south? Anyway, the date stone said 1671 on our south facing Soyland house, in a remote terrace with a magnificent Grade 2 listed barn at one end. Our kitchen was in a single storey flat roofed extension. The previous owner, a one armed man with 7 kids, whose Mrs had gone to Poona to live with the Bhagwan, hadn’t insulated this new extension and one day I heard a heavy footed creature padding across the hollow space just above my head. This was soon after followed by bumps and clumps from inside the kitchen unit below the sink. I opened the door and discovered a black rat jumping about amongst half full tins of cat food. I slammed the door shut, then fetched Biddy and tried to push her into the unit to defend her food store. Biddy was surprisingly unenthusiastic about this deployment - she squirmed from my grasp and shot out through the cat flap.

That December there was a heavy snowfall. We'd always wondered why holes had been drilled in the kitchen ceiling panels. PW had dutifully plugged them, but as the snow thawed it somehow seeped down through the flat roof and the panels slowly sagged into pendulous breasts. When we unplugged them again, to prevent the ceiling from collapsing, six jets of pale, creamy, mother’s milk looking liquid poured forth into strategically placed buckets and bowls. It was a slow thaw and I eventually contrived a complicated arrangement of tilted pots and buckets on stools to feed these thin, milky streams into the kitchen sink, whilst we ate our Christmas dinner.

When the Insurance Man visited in the New Year to check the damage to the flat roof, he rang me at work and asked if we were fully covered for fire and smoke damage. He said he hadn’t been able to make a proper inspection as the house was full of smoke when he arrived because someone had left left the oven grill on, which he had just managed to turn off.

A week later, when I rang his office to settle the claim, I could hear a woman saying to her collagues, 'Shusssh, quiet everyone…it’s Mr Murphy on the phone to Nigel!’ This was followed by snorts of suppressed laughter, which I decided to ignore. Mind you, the last laugh was mine: because of the smoke, Nigel hadn't noticed that the ceiling wasn't insulated, so he also awarded us money to pay for some lovely warm insulation above the new kitchen, which also filled the space where a black rat had once roamed.

Post script …

That spring I remember a glorious morning, when - after devouring my too thick for the toaster toast - I ran up onto the moors. The birds were riz, the air was full of lapwing and curlew call, and on the tops a lark hovered and sang its rapturous song. On my return that glorious morn, it was heartening to see my present wife waiting to greet me at the gate, which inspired me to declare, 'Oh, jocund harbinger of the spring!'

To which she replied, 'You left the bleeding grill on again!’

The real Lorraine Kelly

Lorraine Kelly has decreased her tax burden by convincing a judge that she is not in fact Lorraine Kelly. TV Lorraine Kelly was judged to be a product and therefore qualified for a reduced business burden. The real Lorraine Kelly - rumours say - is a polyandrous biker with a taste for heavy metal who does a spot of bog snorkelling on the side.

Butter up award

Despite unintentionally sitting in one of the seats reserved for the volunteer ushers and spilling half my glass of chillingly cold Shiraz over my quick to freeze lap, the Murphy toast landed butter side up at the first Hebden Film Festival, watching the preview of Steve Sullivan’s artfully coherent documentary, Being Frank: the Chris Sievey Story. How he managed to organise so much material into a salutary but ultimately inspiring take on the timeless ‘puppet taking over puppet master’ tale is wonderful; but, the biggest wonder was the mercurial, multi-media manipulating man behind the oversized mask.

I went to the film because a few years back I was standing outside The Bookcase and a guy pointed to a book and DVD about Frank Sidebottom and told me he used to be in The Freshies and then spent twenty minutes telling me about the Timperley rock god’s alcohol and drugs downhill spiral and his short-lived, but exuberantly disciplined comeback.

A fairytale of Hebden Bridge

In fairy tales you need a magical element …

From ‘Coming out day’
(the verses in italics are sung)

There wor birds celebrating,
It wor their time for mating,
An’ woodpeckers hammered it out.
And swallows wor soaring
An’ rivers stopped roaring,
On t’ day our Jane came out.

Mum went round to gran’s to explain,
She could see her mind having to grapple.
She said, ‘A Wesleyan, our Jane?
But it’s years since she’s been to chapel.’

But she’d thrown off her stealth,
She wor being herself,
As she walked up to t’ woods without doubt.
But near top o’t hill, she froze statue still
On t’ day our Jane came out.

Well, what she saw was magical… and if you walk carefully one early evening along the Scout Hostel road in Hardcastle Crags - during the bluebell weeks - happen you’ll find out what she saw. Or you can buy Hippy Valley from The Bookcase - there’s still a few left!

If you would like to send a message about this piece or suggest ideas, email George Murphy


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