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Murphy's Lore

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

There's good read recommendations, TV reviews, First footing, sad couplings, walking on ice, Nora remembered, Lockdown 3, homeschooling, a saint on a pillar, storming the Capitol, Ginnungagap, hide and seek and a solo duet.

Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 22: Lockdown diary
Monday, 11 January 2021

Monday, December 28

Another painting from Hebden’s al fresco art gallery …


Above: entrance to the Ground Floor Project

A good read: Billy

I picked this up in the Greyhound charity shop. Pamela Stephenson tells her husband’s remarkable story, and recounts tales drawn from his life.

A neighbour, Mr Cumberland, came home from work desperate to get to the pub. “You’d better get those bloody kids in first," said his wife, who did her drinking at home. They had eight children, and so, "driven by his thirst", Mr Cumberland got as many Cumberlands as he could find, then just made up the numbers with any other children he spied. Infant Billy and Florence were scooped up, no questions asked, and thrown into bed with the others. Later that night, two young Cumberlands were found roaming the streets, which ‘gave the search party a useful clue, and the exchange was eventually made’.

If Billy was telling it there’d be a few more laughs and swear words in the mix, but his wife has a succinct, compelling style.

Tuesday, December 29th

What we watched

Outrageous! had clips from Connolly, Joan Rivers, Barry Humphreys and others. A glass of Baileys appeared beside me, to stop me complaining about the talking heads (Elton John, Jonathan Ross, et al), telling us when to laugh. Mind you, PW, having taught kids with disabilities for most of her career, disliked The Big Yin’s mockery of youths who wore sanitary pads. “It’s as bad as racism,” she said. So I poured her a sherry.

The tribute to Michael McIntyre had better interruptions. It didn’t sidestep the malice shown by fellow comedians and presenters when McIntyre burst onto the scene.

In need of something more sobering, we watched The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio, looking like a grown up (when did that happen?), got partially eaten by a bear.

Wednesday, December 30th

A good read: Talking to Strangers

I got this from The Bookcase, with one of my Christmas vouchers. Malcolm Gladwell examines how we get duped by ‘transparent’, engaging people, but rush to condemn awkward, geeky types.

“We have built a world that systematically discriminates against a class of people who, through no fault of their own, violate our ridiculous ideas about transparency.”

His description of the Amanda Knox investigation and trial reminds me of the Dingo Baby case and the immediate aftermath of Lindsay Rimer’s murder, when an innocent man was suspected by viewers because he smiled awkwardly on TV.

Thursday, December 31st

“Well, here is the end of another year! How different this new year’s eve from the last!” Anne Lister, 1832. Well, we’ve got a Trade Deal with the EU, but no one seems to have noticed.

Friday, January 1st

I first footed again this year, despite no longer having dark hair, or a lump of coal to bring in. I’ve been through this ritual for over 60 years. When I was a lad the reward was my only hug of the year, my parents were worried about making me soft.

Traditionally, first foots came from another household (Scottish Review, 1905):

“Maidens of the house arranged that some well favoured … youth of their acquaintance would be the first visitor. Several physical types were deemed unlucky, a flat-soled ‘first-foot’ or one whose character was conspicuously sanctimonious.”

Party time

In the early hours, PW’s cousin rang her neice.

“What’s that racket?!”

“It’s Gran’s karaoke party.”

“Eee, it never is! We’re supposed to be in Tier 4!”

“Hang on, Aunty Val … the police are at the door.”

Saturday, January 2nd

Just Books has just gone.

I got back from my walk as the snow began to fall. It was one of those disappointing snowfalls with socially distanced, wind tossed flakes, not a multidinous descent, silencing the world, blanketing the ground and decorating the trees, but a niggling, niggardly hurry up that cleared the streets.


Back in the 90s, I covered for a colleague who was going to the funeral of a neighbour’s son who’d leapt from a tall building in Leeds. I guessed which building it was. A Calder High student had leapt from the same multi-storey a few years previously. In Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that certain locations are ‘coupled’ in the minds of the suicidal.

When the public was asked if barriers should be erected on Golden Gate Bridge to deter death leaps, people said it was a waste of money - jumpers would soon find other bridges from which to leap. They didn’t know about Coupling. In a longitudinal study of 515 would be suicides, who were restrained from making their leap, only 25 went on to kill themselves.

It took 80 years for suicide barriers to be erected on Golden Gate. Our friends went back to the more mundane Coupling site in Leeds, and were shocked to find that safety barriers had not yet been installed. When they sought out the manager to explain their distress he also wept.

Sunday, January 3rd

Today, the flood plain was an ice rink.

I’ve never really got on with ice. At Cambridge Road primary, I’d queue for a glorious glide along the glistening slides made by the bigger boys. When it was my go, I ran up, enthusiastically copying the style of the older lads, but as soon as my foot stepped onto the ice I flipped backwards, clunking my balaclava clad head on the unforgiving ground, wondering, not for the first time, as I slid ignominiously along on my back, ’Why me God?’

I‘ve read that if you walk with bandy legs, in an almost squatting stance, when traversing ice, you  avoid falling. I tried this technique today and managed to totter along the bottled glass towpath, by holding onto the railings. By the way, Calderdale MBC, why must iron railings around a public park have metal spikes on top, just on a level where if you slipped you might well lose an eye?!

I eventually hauled open the heavy park gate, thinking to cross the treacherous path onto the safe island of the football pitches, but immediately thought better of it. Instead, I proceeded through the flower beds, channelling Leonardo Di Caprio, notwithstanding the occasional whippy thwack of wet branches against my cheeks.

Pity the poets

In Talking to Strangers, Gladwell ponders whether Sylvia Plath might have been discouraged from suicide if the transfer from town gas to natural gas had occured earlier in the UK. Back then, carbon monoxide poisoning was the most common cause of suicide in Britain. By 1977 deaths from that convenient method had fallen to zero.

Plath suffered from depression and had made other attempts on her life, so perhaps she was a lost cause. And, according to Gladwell, “Of every occupational category, poets have far and away the highest suicide rates - as much as five times higher than the general population.”


I didn’t check FaceBook till bedtime, then discovered that Nora Barton had died. For years she was the closing act at Shaggy Dog Storytellers. After a classical music training, a career of singing in shows and working men’s clubs, and despite her 96 years and severe Alzheimers, she triumphed in Britain’s Got Talent at The London Palladium, her final live performance.

Monday, January 4th

We walked into town. I manfully took the lead, employing my new ice walking technique: feet set quite wide apart, bent knees and a slightly squatting posture.

PW said, “What yer doing?”

“What d’yer mean?”

“You look like you’ve filled your nappy.”

Lockdown 3

Events leading up to tonight’s Downing Street briefing followed the usual pattern: SAGE call for a lockdown, Sir Steer Calmer calls for a lockdown, PM mocks Sir Steer Calmer, PM lets schools open for a day (just enough time for kids to spread the virus about), PM calls for a lockdown.

Arrest that man!

Listening to the President’s phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, saying "any good Republican" would be happy to help the White House fabricate the 11,780 votes needed to overturn Joe Biden’s victory: "You have to say that you’re going to re-examine it … But re-examine it with people that want to find answers, not people that don’t want to find answers!" We wondered how come Trump is above the law. And given his apparent impugnity, what lengths will he go to between now and the inauguration?

Tuesday, January 6th

I collected Jude from his care home. Driving back, he blasted us with I’m just a teenage dirt bag, baby and that modern take on the American dream by Nickleback:

Hey, hey I wanna be a rockstar, I'm gonna sing those songs that offend the censors, Gonna pop my pills from a Pez dispenser, I'll get washed-up singers writing all my songs, Lip sync 'em every night so I don't get 'em wrong. Well we all just wanna be big rockstars. And live in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars …

I can honestly say that I was in a few bands in the 80s, and I never wanted all that. Well, maybe just a bit of it. Which reminds me:

Home Schooling:
(From Caxton’s Aesop)

The fox and the grapes

A hungry Fox stole one day into a vineyard where many bunches of Grapes hung ripe and ready for eating. But as luck would have it, they were fastened upon a tall trellis, just too high for Reynard to reach. He jumped and paused, and jumped again, in the attempt to get at them. But it was all in vain. At last he was fairly tired out, and thereupon, “Take them who will,” he cried, “The GRAPES are SOUR!”

Saints’ days

Tristan Langlois, my successor as Shaggy Dog Chairman, has been posting information on Saints’ Days. As well as as his witty translations from Old English, Tristan includes photos of illuminated manuscripts. Today it’s St Simeon, who used to sit on pillars of various sizes looking down on people and, for variety, locked himself in a hut for 18 months, going without any sustenance during Lent. It was a kind of Tier 6 existence.

Wednesday, January 6th


Storming the Capitol

I started watching the football, but something told me to check out the news. Rebecca Solnit got it right in The Guardian.

Call it what it was - a coup

“It was a long time coming, building up for years with white rage, especially white male rage fueled by everyone from Trump himself to the National Rifle Association, Fox News and the various rightwing pundits, the Republican party, the various faces of white supremacy, and the far-right groups such as the Proud Boys. It is a rage against the fact that other people might be equal under the law, that women and people of color might also govern as power begins to be distributed more equally, the same rage that attempted to delegitimise a black president with birtherism and obstruction. It is a rage against equality.”

Thursday, January 7th

PW reckoned she was 5-1 up in a game I didn’t know I was playing, called, He always forgets something, which I don’t acknowledge, because I’m too busy thinking, "wallet, glasses, bag, mask" as I change from my slippers into my shoes, when I go out, plus there’s groceries she forgot to ask Ocado for that I need to remember, plus making sure Jude has what he needs. Today, I got all the required and set off with the young man and on the way to the car realised I had my slippers under my arm. So, I turned back and was greeted with "6-1!"

An opinion poll in the States shows that 45% of Republican voters approved of the attack on their citadel of democracy. It’s chastening to think that COVID, because of his disregard for it, might have saved America, and the world, from four more years of Donald Trump.

Friday, January 8th

Know your Norse

Clare Mulley sent me a note asking what I thought of her a new poem in The Times Lit Supp.  So I googled the intriguing title.


the girl grew
and the gap grew with her
she called it “Long-Silence-With-Buzzing”

its potential was unbearable
like a storm front
or the mouth of a tumbler

so many nights she lay there,
hands upon herself
remembering the moor in summer

how the heather
held its shape beneath her fingers
the lurch of bees

why wouldn’t her own skin hold her?
– too big
everything was too big

Saturday, January 9th

Hide and seek

The Oxford, Astra Zenica vaccine has been rolled out and now there’s a Moderna one on the way. I know two people who’ve had the Biontec jab, so that’s only another 66 million to go. For a couple of months we’ll hide away as much as we can and try to dodge this wily new variant of COVID until we get the jab.

Sunday, January 10th

I can’t finish without hearing the little lady sing.


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