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Monday, 1 April 2019

Murphy's Lore

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

Murphy’s Lore 14

Halcyon days

Neighbours saw a kingfisher on the river at Mayroyd and wondered how to spot the difference between male and female. I knew someone who could have answered their question. At college I went out with a lass whose dad wrote The Oxford Book of Birds. When she first told me he was a naturalist, I said, 'Well, if he wants to take his clothes off, that's his business.’

‘Industrial Building’

An oft repeated drama is being played out. A developer proposed to construct an industrial building near us and the planners agreed. The building was erected. Then the developer decided it should be bigger and applied for change of use to ‘domestic dwelling’. This wasn’t granted, but the building now has three storeys and blocks our view of the river. We all wait to see what its eventual use will be.

Industrial buildings

Meantime industrial buildings which could be renovated, to the west and east of town, fall into decay and stand empty for decades. Leafing back through fading photographs, like this one of the mills and warehouses that once crowded around the railway station, planners must regret the loss of all the stout mills and warehouses that were ‘accidentally’ burnt down or demolished and which could now have become social housing, or restaurants, arts and performance centres.

Nature watch

Against my better judgement, when we have members of the extended family over, my present wife gets me to tell this true tale…

Our last house was in Midgehole. Soon after we moved there, in the late 90s, I was out enjoying a glorious sunny morning when an impressive butterfly landed next to me on a dry stone wall. I excitedly shouted to a woman who was facing away from me, taking in the scenery, 'Have you seen the size of this!?'

She turned, somewhat hesitantly…

Now, I don't get it myself, but for some reason my Mrs and the rest of the family think this is an absolute hoot …

Butter up award

Peter Whitaker

Here’s Peter Whitaker, who many decades ago set up Whitaker Brothers Stonemasons at Mayroyd with his brother Percy. The firm is still known as ‘Pinky and Percy’s’ by many locals, although Richard took over with his uncle when Percy died. The toast lands butter side up for me when I walk through their yard, because Peter often tells me the latest local news and it’s great to have some skilled craftsmen close by. The other workers are invariably as patient as the Whitakers when allowing traffic to drive through their workplace. I wonder if Peter still has the antique vivisector’s operating table in the barn that he once showed me? Perhaps there’s a dark side to his character after all …

April is the cruellest month

This always reminds of Michael E., a lad in the year above me at primary school. His class teacher sent him on a fool’s errand one first of April to ask our teacher if she could lend a tin of striped paint. Our class didn’t quite get the joke - being only 7 or 8 at the time - but when she explained it to us we all laughed uproariously at Michael’s discomfiture.

In my early teens I read a court report of a murder trial in the local paper. Michael was a witness on behalf of his father who had stabbbed and killed his wife’s lover in the British Legion carpark. Michael said, a few days before the stabbing, his mum had thrown all his dad’s clothes out and her new partner had hung his clothes in the wardrobe. His dad was given a 5 year sentence for manslaughter.

Gap year

In 1970 I worked as a Community Service Volunteer at Ravenscraig Psychiatric Hospital in Greenock during my gap year. Apart from the hardship of having to live in a nurses’ hostel, I remember the weekly £2 I got paid meant I could buy LPs, in my case Lovin’ Spoonful, The Nice, The History of the Blues double album, that Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan LP with Lay, Lady Lay on it, Blue, by Joni Mitchell and Elgar’s Enigma variations. Not all the music rocked back then, Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris was at No. 1 and Dana won the Eurovision Song Contest.

I remember one of the dinner ladies used to tease me, saying, ‘I bet he knows it’s not to stir his tea with.’ Some of the residents had lived in the Victorian Gothic hospital for decades, including those with learning difficulties, earning pocket money by labouring 8 hours a day on local farms. There were also male and female locked wards, dim lit Scottish versions of One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, but with the extra ingredient of an all pervasive smell of urine. Twice a day the patients queued for mogadon and largactyl.

The first time I was shown around the female locked ward, Sister Ellen led the way. A smiling, middle aged woman approached us as we entered and the Sister said, ‘Hello, Mary! This is George!’ Mary held her hand out. Sister Ellen sailed on, talking back over her shoulder. When I didn’t follow she looked back and discovered I was motionless and standing on tip toe as Mary had a firm grip of my privvy parts.

A pleasant pheasant plucker

I saw an item in The Times this week about the Animal Liberation Front liberating 5,000 pheasants from a battery farm, where these beautiful creatures were raised. I always have to double check the number of birds involved - The Times states it is 50 million birds each year across the UK! Only 5% of the birds are sold on to be eaten. After being raised, pheasants are released onto the moors for a few weeks of freedom, but when the beaters come along the hunters don’t have to hunt, they just shoot as they take flight - they can’t miss.

Gerard Benson was a Quaker and one of the founders and editors of Poetry on the Underground. He edited a book for children called This poem doesnt rhyme and was one of the Barrow Poets who had a No 1 hit record in Australia with Im not a Pheasant Plucker. I once gave him a lift from Nanhome Mill to Halifax Railway Station and he said he needed a poem for his next book for children, Does W Trouble U? but it had to rhyme and work on two levels. I came up with this ditty during the journey …


‘The wolf is coming!
The wolf is coming!
The young girl said.

‘Run!said her mother, ‘Run, Run!
Or else well both be dead.

‘The wolf is coming!
The wolf is coming!
The young girl said.

Its alright,said her mother.
‘Its got grandma instead!

But writing about mortality I’m minded of its opposite:

The Baby

‘Passing on our genes is as near
as we get to immortality…’

How old is that baby
That cries and cries?
That cannot stand
and only lies?

As old as time.
For you were born
When years were fewer.
This baby’s older
Because its newer.

*Published by Viking (1994), Edited by Gerard Benson

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


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