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Murphy's Lore

Continuing the second series of the offbeat HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.

This week, George considers What We Did in Lockdown, the Wuhan Whistleblower, a 1950s murder, Clare Balding, Steve Tilston and more.

Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 10: Lockdown diary
Monday, 20 July 2020

Monday, July 13th

The Wuhan whistleblower

The Wuhan whistleblower

On 30th December 2019, Dr Li Wenliang posted on Weibo, “Seven SARS cases confirmed at Hua’non Seafood Market.” Li was summoned to the local police station and made to sign a statement that his post was incorrect, although the authorities had already identified 27 cases of ‘unexplained pneumonias’.

Two days later, the technical college magnified the virus and discovered it was a completely new Coronavirus. As the medical journalist, Mark Honigsbaum comments in The Pandemic Century, “This was China’s Chernobyl moment.”

The authorities hesitated till the third week in January, when the President finally ordered that Wuhan district should be quarantined. By then an estimated 5 million people had left the city. Many had flown overseas.

Dr Li Wenliang continued to treat COVID sufferers and contracted the virus on 12 January. He died on 7th February, aged 34. After hearing of his death, Wuhan residents went out onto their balconies, sang songs in the whistleblower’s honour and a professor risked the wrath of the government by posting online his condemnation of the President and the ‘pack of wolves around him’ for clamping down on free speech and causing a catastrophe.

Tuesday, July 14th

Strong women

Choosing a card at H’s shop I said, “I’ll have the bosomy woman.”

“You mean the strong woman? She’s strong because she combines the qualities of Virgo and Pisces.”

We were wearing masks. H said, “Boris says masks save lives, but don’t bother wearing them till the 24th. Well, I say bollocks to that Boris!”

At Jack the barber’s I got my first hair cut in three months - by Jack’s new assistant. She had a visor on and I wore my mask. She said, “I don’t listen to the government’s guidance; I just do whatever the Germans do.”

Wednesday, July 15th

Wallets and handbags

At One Stop, I patted my pockets and kept on not finding my wallet. Could have sworn I came out with it. Dashed home and looked in my usual wallet places. Still not there. Partial panic. Then I blamed PW, which made me feel a lot better. I pass my wallet to PW if we’re out together and I run out of pockets - what with masks, phones, keys and glasses to carry. I reckoned I must have passed it to her yesterday at the garden centre. So I phoned her. She didn’t answer.

Then I remembered PW was having her first haircut in months and she’d probably turned her hearing aids off to cut out the DJ chatter and pop music being piped into the salon.

So I texted: TURN YOUR PHONE ON!!!


Then I noticed I’d received several phone calls and not even heard them! So I rang back. A man asked, “Is that Gordon?

“No mate, you’ve got the wrong number.”

“Didn’t catch that, Gordon. Anyway Gordon, your wallet’s been handed in at One Stop.”

So I did my second stop at One Stop and got my wallet back, checking my business card to see if my name was Gordon. A kind customer had handed it in. I must have put it down whilst hand-sanitising. I thanked the assistant, who followed me outside for her Cig Break. She said, “It’s easily done, I left my bag at a cafe once. It got stolen.” I told her it happened to my wife once - except she got her bag back.

Forty years ago, in a cafe in Appleby, PW’s dad, a recently retired coal miner, said he had chest pains. So we didn’t go on to the lakes, we drove back to Durham. The north east was coming out of winter and as we took in the peewits in the fields and the mucky white verges and hedges along the A1, Tommy shook his fist at the snow and said, “I hope I never see you again.”

PW said, “Don’t say that dad.”

We’d just got back to the pit village when Cumbria police rang and said, “A Mrs Kathleen Murphy’s handbag has been handed in.” She’d left it in the cafe. Tommy went upstairs for a lie down as PW arranged to pick up the bag on our way home. A week later she got a phone call to say her dad had died from a heart attack.

Back in 2020, the assistant said, “Put your wallet on a chain, love. That’s what my husband’s done.”

I texted PW: “Don’t worry about my wallet. I’ve found it x”

Later, when she walked in, I apologised for sending her all those messages. She said, “What messages?” then nipped upstairs to put right her new hairstyle.

What to do in lockdown

Heptonstall Opera do this …

Thursday, July 16th

Today the Halifax Courier headline was


Suddenly, Calderdale cases have spiked and now we’ve zoomed up the tables and we’re in the Covid top twenty.

You can’t take it with you

When we retired and got our lump sums, PW invited a Financial Advisor round. I expected the usual spiel about making wise investments. Instead he told us to spend it while we can. “Don’t keep it till you lose your … faculties, the government might want to spend it on your care home fees.”

He reckoned, if we were lucky, we’d get 10 years of retirement to go on holidays and be adventurous, 10 years of retirement to slow down as we became frailer and 5 years when we might need ‘looking after’.

Well, we’ve just got through our first ten years.

Home schooling, Key Stage 4

Aesop fable

The Miser

A miser sold all he had and converted it into a great lump of gold, which he hid in a hole in the ground. Every day he went out to inspect it. This was noticed by one of his workmen, who suspecting it was treasure, went to the place and stole it away. When the Miser returned to gaze once more upon his treasure and found it was gone, he wept and tore at his hair. A neighbour saw his extravagant grief and asked what was causing him so much trouble. When the Miser explained the neighbour said, “Stop fretting. Get a rock and bury it in the same hiding place and tell yourself it is your lump of gold; for as you never meant to use it, the one will do you just as much good as the other.”

The worth of money is not in its possession but in its use.

Friday, July 17th

What we did in Lockdown

DogcastDogcastOur neighbour Georgie Head found a new hobby to entertain herself, her friends and her Newfoundland dog, Hetty. Hetty subsequently featured on a Dog Cast by Clare Balding.

“I didn’t know that dressing up your dog was a thing”, Clare wrote. Well, it is now.

Saturday, July 18th

What we did in lockdown

Puzzle Poet Joy Edwards, who also beautifies floral displays at her local Railway Station, has put forward this plan for the town centre in Sowerby Bridge.

Incapable and shameless

Commenting on the recent scandals over Cummings and Jenrick, former Conservative MP and Thatcher loyalist Matthew Parris has written that Tory MPs have realised that Boris “isn’t even clever … he’s losing and the combination of incapacity and shamelessness is beginning to curdle … I now believe he won’t survive as prime minister through the year ahead - maybe I’m wrong …  But as long as he lasts, his shamelessness shames Britain.”

Sunday, July 19th

It was a bitter winter when Kathleen Elliott (now PW) was a baby and caught pneumonia. For several years afterwards she was made to wear a liberty bodice and three vests, but she still kept catching pneumonia. Until, on a visit to the doctor her mum took ages pulling off daughter’s layers of underclothes so that the GP could listen to Kathleen’s chest. He said, “You must stop putting so many clothes on her, Mrs Elliott. Let her develop her own immunity!”

I thought of this little detail when I read the sad case of little Mary Hackett who was living in Halifax at that time.

The Halifax child murder

In the Sunday Times, Geraldine Hackett writes, “Growing up I never talked about the murder of my sister Mary, or the day she was murdered.” Mary was six years old when she disappeared, Geraldine was five. The family had moved from Limerick in Ireland in 1953, the year before the murder. The weather was bitterly cold that winter and Geraldine and Mary both contracted pneumonia. Her father worked for the parks department and they lived in the Lodge at Lister Lane Cemetery.

On a sunny day in August, Mary was still wearing her liberty bodice under her dress when she went across the road to play in the sand pit alongside Park Congregational Church. The sand was for the use of building students at the nearby further education college. Minutes after playing on the sand Mary was battered to death.

Albert Hall, the church caretaker, was subsequently hanged for Mary’s murder. It took six weeks before her body was found, hidden under abandoned pews in the foundations of the church. Her head had been smashed to a pulp but her father identified her by the liberty bodice she wore under her dress.
There was no forensic evidence that Hall was the killer and John Robertshaw, a former crown court judge, has suggested that there was a miscarriage of justice. On balance, Geraldine believes that Hall was the killer. Five years previously, families at an RAF camp in North Shields had complained that he enticed young girls away and masturbated in front of them. Two years later, living in the West Riding, he was reported to police for handing a pornographic note to an eight year old girl. He had agreed to be treated at a mental hospital in Huddersfield.

Geraldine went on to become a journalist for the Evening Courier and then The Times. She writes, ”The past never leaves you. I think about what kind of life my sister would have had. My mother always said Mary would have been clever.”

Monday, July 20th

Apparently there are good results from the clinical trials of several potential vaccines. Boris says it could all be over by Christmas. Where have we heard that line before?

What we did in Lockdown

The folklorist, librarian and author John Billingsley, “discovered paths within a mile of my home that I’d never walked before … found an unrecorded standing stone … downloaded and read His Dark Materials as an ebook from Calderdale Libraries … and swore as the new April peace of the countryside (was) wrecked by big DIY jobs, and as the new traffic drowned out any attempt at conversation in Market Street.”

Tuesday, July 21st

Wees in the trees

Toddling along the tow path, I was a disappointed by the ranks of pastel pale umbellifers in the wild flower garden. Where’s the riot of colour this year? Last couple of years I’ve been overwhelmed - or at least whelmed. I’m a big fan of our P&G people, but I hope they brighten our days with more colour as the season rolls along. I was trying to think of alternatives to ‘riot of colour’ when my neighbour Beryl caught up with me and I had to go up a gear. We both talked twelve to the dozen and I wasn’t sure if Beryl was distracting me from the micturating male in the bushes because I was too busy distracting her.

Thursday, July 21st

After the report into cyber attacks and infiltration by Russia agents into British society, the papers are full of photographs of Tories and Russian billionaire backers of the Conservative Party. Why did they ever think that Putin’s friends were filled with benevolence towards us? More likely they were filled with benevolence towards the Brexiteers and the chance to invest in prime real estate.

Home Schooling KS 3

The scorpion and the frog - a Russian fable

A scorpion, which could not swim, asked a frog to carry it across a river on the frog's back. The frog hesitated, afraid of being stung by the scorpion, but the scorpion argued that if it did that, they would both drown. The frog considered this argument made sense and agreed to transport the scorpion. Midway across the river, the scorpion stung the frog anyway, dooming them both. The dying frog asked the scorpion why it stung despite knowing the consequence, to which the scorpion replied: "I couldn't help it. It's in my nature."

Saturday, July 25th

How was it for you?

A friend self isolated for ten weeks then went for a walk, fell over, broke a hip, spent two weeks in hospital and needed home help afterwards, “which made a bit of a mockery of all the sheltering done for ten weeks.”

So I asked other social media mates “What were the good bits and the bad bits of lockdown?”

Everyone missed meeting family and friends, as Campbell Malone wrote, “especially those having a bad time or having a special birthday, not being able to hug or have the kids for tea.” His good times included “people being nice and watching nature.”

Beth Taylor wrote, “Best bits: spending time with the kids. Worst bits: spending time with the kids. Today was the first time the kids were out of the house for school/nursery since March the 14th.”

Frances Robinson found herself “appreciating what I have and especially a garden, with all the good weather we had in the early weeks … and sitting outside talking to the neighbour over the wall.”

Some in employment seemed to relish lockdown. Ellen Limebear thought the best bit was “slowing down a bit.”

Hayley Reid wrote: “Best bits: gardening, walking, sunshine, working from home, getting things done that’s been waiting for years, zoom chats with friends, not going to shops as often, less driving." Hayley struggled to think of bad bits … “I suppose there are a handful of people I’d like to visit soon.”

Whereas Greg Nickson “missed seeing friends, normal social activities (including Shaggy Dog) eating out … everything really.”

Jean Smith wrote, “ … the garden has never looked better. We’ve ate well and drank probably more than we should, but that’s nothing new… I’ve missed hugs and fun times with family and friends and pub quizzes and eating out.” Jean also missed hugging the grandchildren - which I hope she’s made up for this week.

Sunday, July 26th

Thousands of British holiday makers on holiday in Spain have been told they must go into a two week lockdown when they return to the UK because of a surge in cases. The politicians keep underestimating this virus and a desperate yearning for normality is making fools of us all.

Local hero

Hebden Bridge’s Steve Tilston has been an admired folk singer for decades. Outside the folk scene he is known for the letter written by John Lennon when Steve was 21 and starting out. Steve didn’t see the letter until it was unearthed in 2005 and it became the basis of a film starring Al Pacino.

Here’s Steve thinking about his life on the road.

Readers write

Apart from responses to my surveys about lockdown I’ve also received notes from historian, Alan Fowler about the Blackpool Highflyer  - he especially enjoyed the episodes on the old Ryburn Valley line, which is now a narrow, atmospheric and nature filled footpath. Thanks, also to former colleague Lester Hall, who has picked up on my references to austerity economics and sent me some interesting videos, which I’ll discuss in a future episode, as the economic devastation caused by lockdown kicks in.

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

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