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Murphy's Lore

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

Episode 12 features art in the valley and artists we have lost, Percy Shaw and Ken Dodd, a stall holder and Vincent Van Gogh, memories of Strays restaurant, a policeman and Frank Bough, overdue compensation and Acre Mill.

Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 12: Lockdown diary
Monday, 24 August 2020

Monday, August 10th

Bye John

John the barber has died. I put a short film of him on social media, with a note beginning, “Bye John.”

Friends who didn’t know John responded. Joy Edwards in Sowerby Bridge wrote, “Loved this George. Never lost his accent either, top marks for that.” Glenda George in the Highlands wrote, “I adore people who go their own way; the film is a lasting tribute, isn’t it?”

Roger Munday wrote, “Pat and I were friends of John for 50 years … We were reminiscing only this weekend about going camping with John and Linda, probably in ’71, in our clapped out VW. As we had all our camping equipment we limited ourselves to one change of clothes each … I will have put on my better pair of jeans (or maybe loons even). John (who was stunningly handsome) emerged in an immaculate white shirt and velvet suit. Always a man of style … We moved to Hebden (well, to Cally Hall in BSH) in ’74 and the rest is history. Many treasured memories of good times spent together.”

I realised I didn’t know John’s surname and sent an enquiry to Roger, who replied that John the barber’s real name was John Bye.

Tuesday, August 11th

Summer OakSometimes I don’t choose themes, they seem to come looking for me. Art can be a celebration of life, but my motto - ‘It’s always now’ - was borrowed from Hockney’s repeated remarks in an interview on the transitoriness of light. Life too, I’d add.

Now the artist George Guest has died. I met him one time, when he talked to my painter friend Amrik, as we drank coffee in town. There’s a lovely appreciation of him on HebWeb. On his website, he wrote, when he came up here, these hills and valleys changed his style of working. He started painting big.

Percy and the diddy man

On Tuesdays, Jude sometimes waits for me in The Percy Shaw pub. There’s a Ken Dodd joke about Percy: “The man who invented cats’ eyes was inspired when he saw the eyes of a cat in his headlights. If the cat had been going the other way he would have invented the pencil sharpener.”

I forgot to tell Jude about John the barber. When he went for a haircut at John’s, they  chatted about the Krays and other London gangsters. As John snipped, he gently reassured Jude that he’d never, to the best of his knowledge, slit anyone’s throat in all his years of barbering.

Eat Out to Help Out

This evening we dined beside the Thai restaurant. It was idyllic, apart from a faint whiff of diesel from the barges churning around in the marina. Afterwards, we strolled home and PW said, “Let’s sit outside.”

In the 70s, on an evening like this, Kate’s dad, who had worked 48 years underground, met us at the door of his miner’s cottage as we came back from the pub. He said, “You two go for a stroll in the park and breathe in that air”.

So tonight we raised a glass to Tom, smelt the heady garden aromas and then watched as, one at a time, 400 bats fluttered out from under the eaves of Lock Keeper’s Cottage. It’s hard to believe such shy, reclusive creatures are the unwitting source of this pandemic.

Da doo Ron Ron

Nearly midnight, with the windows still open, I got a text from Brian, who also went to a secondary mod in Ellesmere Port. We were runners back then. Brian’s been an artist going on 50 years and he’s just finished a commission to paint Ron Hill winning the Commonwealth Games Marathon in 1970. His girlfriend encouraged him to complete the project by singing the old Crystals hit, “Da doo Ron, Ron!” Now they’re having a mini break in Oxford, to celebrate.

This evening, Canary Wharf traders were cooling off by stripping to their shorts and jumping from a bridge into the river and they challenged Brian to join in. He’s 66, but Brian didn’t jump - he dived. He told me he was thinking about his brother, Pete. Today’s the anniversary of Pete’s death in a road accident. He was seventeen.

Wednesday, August, 12th


The festivals, clubs and celebrations we’re missing in this benighted summer! Here’s a snap I took of Pride Week in 2018, featuring local artist David Kennedy - on the left in this picture. He makes glorious scenery and stupendous contraptions, puppets and costumes, but what I want to know is, how come his more casual clothes look so cool. Where do these artists shop?

The Inglorious 12th

Labour has called for a review of driven grouse shooting on England’s uplands; but, judging by the ennoblement of rifle toting Beefy Botham, I’m not sure the government will agree to this any time soon.

Thursday, August, 13th

Exam season

This evening in the park a circle of students gathered. Perhaps they were 6th formers. This year an algorithm has been used to calculate student grades and it’s downgraded scores in large state schools. A succession of students have been on the news to protest, and each one has been eloquent, despite their obvious distress. Lester Hall, a retired colleague, sent me a message, ‘Not one student from Eton has had their mark downgraded’. 

There were just two of us in the 6th form at my secondary modern - then the other kid left. So they sent me to the grammar school for my upper 6th. My new teachers wouldn’t put me forward for university, so I bunked off in protest. I turned up, though, for my exams. When I did well they asked me to stay on another year, but by then I was too proud and alienated. The 70s and the grown up world was beckoning, so I took a gap year instead.

For the Love of blue

Lesley Fowler Exhibition

I saw a post from Alan Fowler, letting friends know it was 10 years since his wife  Lesley died. I worked with her and art tutor Amrik Varkalis at Bradford College. A few years back, there was an exhibition of Amrik’s paintings celebrating Lesley’s life in Hebden town hall.

At home we’ve got a dazzling, sunlit Varkalis landscape above the stairs, but the theme of this exhibition was Lesley’s love of blue. I admired the calmness and clear sightedness with which Lesley dealt with her final months and the funny and self deprecating humour of Alan Fowler’s speech to Lesley’s many friends at her memorial exhibition.

Friday, August 14th

Anthony Costello

I freeze, turn to stone

Lockdown is slowly unlocking and Anthony Costello’s poetry stall is back on the market. I was there in time to hear his 12 o’clock reading. Afterwards, I bought a book of Irish proverbs and a biography of Geoffrey Chaucer, for a total outlay of £3.50.

In I freeze, turn to stone* Anthony has mined Van Gogh’s letters to create what Peter Riley describes as ‘resonant free verse’. I didn’t take to this selective fragmenting at first, but now I get it. Here’s a sampling of Vincent, in his own words:

The Night Cafe

Night prowlers take refuge here.
The brothel keeper kicks people out.
I always feel I am a traveller.
At the end of my course.
I shall find that everything is a dream.
That one’s self was nothing at all.

* published by Poetry Salzburg (2018)

Saturday, August 15th

I walked down Bridge Gate ahead of an American couple, quite young, maybe in their late 20s. He said, “It’s a lousy day, but look at the crowds!” She said, “I guess their summer is almost over, so they go out while they still can!”

Beryl Riley came by as I sipped a coffee outside Cafe Cali. She’s been on lots of art courses since moving up from Cambridge a few years back. She said Northlight Studios and Mary Loney had inspired a lot of artists in the upper valley.

When I read up on Art for the Terrified and other courses I was reminded of a day at my primary school. The headteacher had asked each class to have pictures of children’s drawings on the wall. In those days I drew all the time, including on pavements in our street with broken up chalk ornaments my mum let me use, so I’d had a lot of practice. Our teacher got each of us to draw a picture in our exercise books and after she’d inspected everyone’s efforts, she announced that no one could draw properly, apart from Raymond Grice and me.

Strays remembered

We talked while we were away about the opening night of Strays Restaurant, it must have been in ’79 or ’80. The ovens weren’t working properly on that first night, but while the team tried to fix them, diners were plied with free red wine, which led to lots of jollity and shared bonhomie. At PW’s prompting, I went on Hebden Bridge FaceBook site and asked who still remembered Strays, and I got 70 replies! Most people loved the place.

Louise Harrison wrote, “Strays was brilliant at a time when there was a lack of decent restaurants in Hebden Bridge. It used to feel very cosmopolitan to me. Always a nice atmosphere.”

Some had worked there. Gilly Sloper remembers getting the place ready, putting in a window and plastering. While Janette Logan doesn’t remember everything that went on because lots of “naughty substances” were consumed behind the scenes.

I loved Sven Smithwell's comment: “Great place, liked it a lot. Sometimes they didn’t have food.”

Kate Mellor remembers her son got beer spilt onto his spaghetti bolognese. “Neither a new meal nor beer was forthcoming”. He didn’t get anything off his bill either. Whereas Kathleen Jackson went out with a group on a birthday do and got very merry. They didn’t notice that they had been overcharged, but when they went back a month or so later the server reached up to a jar and refunded them £20. She wrote, ”Fabulous place. Fabulous people.”

Roger Munday describes the service as “reactive, if they didn’t have something in, they would nip down to Michael at the Grapevine and brought a bottle back.”

Sunday, August 16th

Sylvia painting

This snow scene is by Sylvia Wadsley. She’s moved south now, but when I asked her who was influential in the arts scene in the upper valley, she said, “Mary Loney.” So I found this 2012 film of an Tony Wright’s interview with Mary on his Wild Rose site.

Monday, August 17th

Today the Tories did a U turn and decided, after a public outcry, that this year they’d accept teachers’ assessments of pupils grades. The students in TV interviews have been far more impressive and mature than my 18 year old self, and they’ve had hell of a year.

Tuesday, August 18th

As it poured outside, I jotted down Irish proverbs where they chimed for me, such as:

The secret in the heart of the sober man, is often on the lips of the drunkard.

Time is a good storyteller.

Death gives a taste to life.

And …

Every gate closes before a cowardly heart.

When I read that last one, my mind flitted back to my gap year and a blonde Swedish nurse I met in Scotland. Her smiles suggested she’d say, ‘Ja!” but I was too cowardly to ask the question.

Wednesday, August 19th

At Cafe Cali I had a jovial, free wheeling chat with John, whose surname I don’t know. I told him I’d left the house with a desk stuck halfway up the stairs and PW didn’t trust me to complete the manoeuvring of the item to the top floor without doing my back in. John recalled a Douglas Adams story about a scientist who spent all his time trying to work out how to shift a piece of furniture that was stuck halfway up the stairs of his abode, until aliens came to the rescue.

Then we had a chat about UFOS and I told him about Lockdown Diaries and Episode 8 of these chronicles. He told me the policeman, Alan Godfrey has taken up art, which was nice to hear. So I said I’d include a 1980 video of the Todmorden policeman with David Icke, Dr Who and Frank Bough in this episode.

Watching the avuncular Frank Bough, it’s surprising to recall that he was outed in The People or The News of the World, for his exotic habit of snorting cocaine with South American prostitutes.

Thursday, August 20th

Philip Round

Philip Round died of mesothelioma in 2018, aged 66, after coming into contact with asbestos dust on his father’s work clothes as a child. His father had died of the same illness in 1994.

I’ve saved this from a recent Evening Post report, “Before his death, Mr Round began legal proceedings with lawyers who proved his exposure to the debilitating dust had been at his family home through after-work hugs with his dad or being around the washing. His wife Judith continued Mr Round’s battle for compensation and was finally awarded a £300,000 settlement from Cape Acre Mill. She said: ‘Philip suffered appallingly during his illness and nothing our excellent doctors did could take away his pain’.”

RosieSunday, August 23rd

Tidying through my desk I found this old, crumpled note from our granddaughter, and I thought of folks who had their lives cut cruelly short and missed out on watching their children and grandchildren grow up.

Wakes week workers 

A friend sent Frances Robinson an old Valley Magazine article by Issy Shannon about Wakes Week, which includes a photograph of smiling Acre Mill workers, who’d jokingly donned nose guards as a sign of their employment, before setting off in 1952 for a grand week in Filey. I wondered how many of those men had their lives cut short by the fibres they breathed in when they returned from Wakes holiday.

Wakes week workers 

Apart from a small plaque in Pecket Well, there isn’t a memorial to those who lost their lives at Acre Mill, so I wrote this folk song, hoping better singers and musicians might adopt it - or write their own!

Readers write

Writer, and award winning poetry publisher, Bob Horne enjoyed Episode 11 and wrote, “Great again, George. Good to see you are reading that excellent collection, Tales from the Tachograph.”

Campbell Malone, who often champions the work of Todmorden artists and those galleries and shops around Water Street (where PW and I often look longingly at the pictures before buying a greetings card), sent a fond recollection of Strays, after seeing my request in Episode 11:

“I especially recall our 5 aside Xmas dinner … at some stage in the early 80s … a bunch of us started playing 5 aside football in Mytholmroyd … we thought it would be a good thing to take our spouses out so we organised a Xmas evening meal at Strays. It went well, but coincided with Tony Ward’s 40th birthday, so with his partner, Rosemary, we conspired to create an awards ceremony where I announced a succession of winners of titles such as player of the season, goal of the season, save etc. I finished with most promising young player, an award like all the others that went to Tony, at which point Rosemary emerged with a large birthday cake organised with Strays. We still meet every year around Xmas although now it has become a lunch … Not entirely sure whether we are on our 37th or 38th dinner next time. Must ask Tony!”

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