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Murphy's Lore

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

In episode 25, there's Ted Hughes down the pit, dad dancing in the 60s, first loves, vaccinations, grandfatherly advice on love, Heathcliffe and Cathy, Ted and Sylvia, a septic isle and sceptic care workers, a Hebden Bridge Love song and a man who said too much.

Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 25: Lockdown diary
Monday, 22 February 2021

Monday, February 8th

I woke up to blue skies, white hills.

Sociably distanced

George’s Square takeaways were serving '1 customer at a time'. Cloud breathing shoppers parted and regathered as I side stepped through the little throng, clasping a cappuccino. The sun shone and the hills wrapped round us like a winter stole. It seems most shopkeepers are keeping their shops. Opposite the White Lion, men from a shop fitting firm unloaded shelves from a van. Labourers and artisans have worked right through the lockdowns. I caught one guy saying, "I can’t afford time off, I’ve a mortgage and loans to pay off."

Down the pit

In A Little History of Poetry, John Carey writes of Ted Hughes, “His elder brother was a gamekeeper and used to take him up onto the moors shooting, where Hughes fell in love with the wild. Returning to the valley was like a descent into the pit’.”

Well, despite the snow flurries, the sun poked its head above Crow Hill till gone three o’clock today, lifting our mood down here in ‘the pit’.

Tuesday, February 9th

Dad dancing in the 1960s

After more than half a century, I’m in social media contact with Sue who was in my year at school. I recall her in a keyhole dress at St Thomas’s youth club in ’64, when I didn’t pluck up courage to ask for a dance, and she explained the background to House of the Rising Sun, as the new No 1 blasted through the speakers. I was at the ’13, never been kissed’ stage.

Disco ettiquette was for small groups of serious looking lasses to stake out their territory by placing their handbags on the floor. As they danced they studiously ignored the circulating pack of long haired youths. The task for lads was to sidle into one of the female packs without a by your leave and start strutting their stuff. When I tried this manouevre, I closed my eyes, in an attempt to look cool and zoned out. Opening them again, I discovered the girls had picked up their bags and staked out new territory a few yards away.

I never found a way of cavorting on a dance floor that didn’t feel like dad dancing. Other lads had the knack of joining a set of mini-skirted misses, throwing some nonchalant shapes whilst focusing on the prettiest girl and methodically detaching her from her mates.

Just before 10, the vicar appeared and the DJ played a slow tune, something like This Boy or In My Life. The lights were dimmed and the alpha males closed in on their girls. Arms were draped round necks and the couples went into slow motion circling, like a pair of crabs joined at the lips. Victoria Wood described these clinches as tongue wrestling with a fun sized Mars Bar rubbing against her belly. The unfancied girls sat glumly watching this snogging finale. I got my coat.

Readers write: first love

Iain Glencross: “Girlfriend had a father who took against me. He had a farm and one day when he thought I had been there long enough, he said he would give me a lift into town. We got down the lane and I said I would see my mate at the next farm, thinking that he would be out of the way for a while, I doubled back. But so did he. When he saw me he bellowed with rage, and I jumped out of the window. He chased me across the fields with a shotgun. I had to hide, lying in a submerged drainage ditch. True story.”

Wednesday, February 10th

Jab’s a good un

Research, reported in New Scientist, indicates that “Sleep duration on the two nights before vaccination is the best predictor of the immune response several months later.”
I didn’t read this article until we returned from receiving the Oxford jab at Todmorden Health Centre. As it happens, PW has been waking up in the night recently, while I’ve slept right through. I received my jab whilst standing having a natter with the GP. They were jabbing 600 people today. Outside again, we touched elbows with the just jabbed Braggs. Joyce said she’s enjoying the Murphy’s Lore paperback - which gave me another shot in the arm, especially as she’s in it.

First love

Glenda George, once of Hebden Bridge recalled, “When I was seventeen my then boyfriend asked me if I would like to stay at his house while his parents were taking a fortnight’s holiday at the seaside in their caravan. Parents left Saturday morning. I fetched up at J’s house at lunchtime. Usual day events … friends came over, hung around. Later J suggested that we could be more comfortable in the parents’ double bed. By around midnight we had settled ourselves in … eventually, turned out the light … Then the bedroom door swung open and the light from the hallway shone directly across at us. Mr H walked in, passing us without a glance, rummaged in the bedside table drawer and then, his face shining in the light from the hall, he looked down at us witha face splitting grin and said to his son: “I had to come all the way back because your mum forgot her pills. See you in a fortnight!” and he slipped out again, closing the door behind him. We both found the matter so traumatic we actually spent a very chaste night together. Which is probably just as well.”

Thursday, February 11th

Amanda Elwen grew up on a farm near Carlisle, “My grandad used to tell us this eloquent poem about love:

Love is a many splendoured thing,
It makes a man a fool,
And if he is not careful,
It can wear away his tool.

Friday, February 12th

Today is a pleasingly palindromic: 12/02/2021.

Heathcliffe and Cathy

In The Brontesaurus, John Sutherland ruminates on the practice of digging graves 10 feet deep in Haworth graveyard, to allow room for later members of the family to be deposited in the same grave. The peaty moisture of graves in the vicinity acted as an airless preservative. Emily Bronte certainly witnessed graves being uncovered. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliffe bribes the sexton to break open Cathy’s coffin. “I saw her face again - it is hers yet!” he tells Nancy, his appalled servant.

Although the wetness of the graveyard preserved the bodies of the dead, the run off contaminated the local water supply, “most catastrophically, the spring water to the Black Bull pub, which brewed its own beer. One drank corpse in the Bull.”

Saturday, February 13

Vaccine conspiracy

A cousin called PW with news of a care worker relative who has turned down the Covid vaccination because she thinks there’s a tracking device inside the vaccine. Her daughter and two of her care home colleagues have done the same. Like many of us, these women live their lives on social media, tracked by Apple, Amazon and ad agencies. Yet they think these vaccinations are a conspiracy for tracking them gannin round Wearside. As if! I mean, we’ve got 5G masts for that hinnies!

Sylvia and Ted

In his history of poetry, John Carey comments on Ted Hughes’s fascination with violence. “Hughes is interested in violence because (like the Pennine moors he went up to with his brother) it opens the way to an elemental, non-human level where primal energies flow and drive. ‘Any form of violence’, Hughes wrote, ‘any form of vehement activity, invokes the bigger energy, the elemental power circuit of the universe’.”

In letters to her psychiatrist, Sylvia Plath described Hughes as mocking and threatening in his adultery, asking her why she has not killed herself. She also claimed, ‘he beat me up physically,’ thus causing a miscarriage.

Sunday, February 14th

Valentine’s day. Twenty years ago, teaching a poetry course in Bradford to prospective teachers, I started with romance and I sang My love is like a red, red rose, which none of them knew. From this simple beginning, as John Carey states, it gathers ‘earth shattering force’ in the second stanza:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
     A .lknd the rocks melt wi’ the sun,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
     While the sands o’ life shall run.”

Burns seemed to do the trick. Soon I was being presented with verses by Rumi and Neruda. Much of poetry focuses, after all, on love. Larkin once wrote that what remains of us is love, but later he chided himself, “love is not stronger than death.”

Tuesday, February 16th

Jude went back to his supported living accommodation for the first time in months. The staff have all had the jab, but none of the residents. Jo Whiley, the radio DJ has been offered the jab, but she wants to know why her sister, who has learning difficulties and diabetes has not received it, despite being in a high risk category.

Wednesday, February 17th

Aussie rules

Private Eye arrived. The writer signing himself as MD has relatives in Australia who are aghast at our government’s incompetence. Most days in January the UK had more deaths than the number of Australians who’ve died since the start of the pandemic! MD predicts that the vaccine programme might save Johnson. In England, he tells them, “the new variant is more likely to cop the blame than the government.”

Hebden Bridge Love Song

Folk singer Martin Francis wrote to say he is enjoying Murphy’s Lore, and wants to track down the latest edition of Hippy Valley, see below for details.* He attached this plaintive air:


Martin’s mournful tale of chasing after an elusive woman reminded me of an earlier incident. In my mid teens, I was on an evening time trial run and, seeing a woman cycling up the gentle rise ahead of me, I used her as an unwitting pacemaker. She was ploughing on, despite the slope, but I was breathing hard and gaining on her with every stride. Near the top of the rise I was just about to overtake her when she braked, turned back and shouted, “Why are you chasing me?!”

Friday, February 19th

Moonraker Festival

This weekend should have been the bi-annual Mookraker Festival in Slaithwaite. Somewhere in a Cloud Share I found snaps of my gig a few years back. I’d like to credit the pro photographer, if he’s still in business.

photos of Moonraker festival in Slaithwaite

Saturday, February 20th

This septic isle

The latest figures on deaths from Covid on a selection of islands are:

Australia 909 (35 per million),

Cuba 277 (24);

Jamaica 273 (128);

Japan 7195 (805);

New Zealand 26 (5)

Taiwan 9 (0.25)

United Kingdom 119,160 (1782).

The success of the vaccine programme and the dropping of international comparison tables is hiding the ongoing disaster in the UK.

Craig Melia sent a note, “The secondary, but no less heartbreaking, part next to the unnecessary human cost, is that the architects of this disaster are still lauded by what passes for our press and entire swathes of the population.”

Sunday, February 21st

Finally, there’s an art to chatting up, but don’t over do it.

* Footnote: Fantastic Book Publishershave produced a new edition of Hippy Valley, £4.50.

Murphy's Lore, the book is available to order here

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

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