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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 26, there's memories of caning and slippering, the power of the pen, Bob All Over, children and Long Covid, crowds at the Town Hall, middle age, 6 word stories, a wooden box, a grim Grimm and Wisdom Reservoir.

Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 26: Lockdown diary
Monday, 8 March 2021

Monday, February 22nd

As Schools are reopening next week, I asked FaceBook friends to recall their memories of school. I happened to use, as a prompt, a photo from Kes of the good pupil who was sent with a note from his teacher to the Head and ended up in the naughty boys line waiting to receive the whack. So many people responded with memories of corporal punishment.

Ingrid Burney recalled, “My Head Teacher at my village school caned a little lad. When he cried, she invited him to cane her. He refused.” 

Jenny Nicholson remembers messing about in class, but “the boy in front got the blame and was wacked with the teacher’s plimsoll … I was too scared to own up.” The lad never spoke to her again.

The new roadmap

The sun was shining when I encountered Mel Fox walking along Old Gate. Despite the sunshine we agreed we were both suffering from valley fever and were waiting to hear from Boris when we’ll be allowed to travel.

Having learnt from the disasters of last year, at his Number 10 briefing, the Prime Minister said he’ll ‘follow the data not the dates’, then told us the dates he has in mind. Soon enough these dates will harden into expectations.

Tuesday, February 23rd

The cleansing gels in shops are alcohol based and flammable. Leaving Sainsbury’s, Jude lit his lighter and burnt his hand.

School days and dads

Jackie Jones went to the same primary school as me, but she was in a class with my younger sister - and Jenny Nicholson’s future husband. She remembers three lads who nipped out of school at lunchtime and were “caught shop-lifting in Woolies !!!” When our old school closed down, a few years ago, they had an open day for former students. Jackie went along to the event and read the old punishment book and “the culprits were all named and shamed (I do wonder if their kids got to see what they’d done lol!).”

Liz Nicholson, (Jenny’s daughter) had a confession to make from her secondary school days. She was once “skiving off at the shops and turned round in Boots and there was Dad striding towards me on his lunch break … I was frozen to the spot in my school uniform terrified … he walked right past me and I managed to sneak out. Then he saw me later and said, ‘I saw your mates outside Boots and not at school’.” She wasn’t sure if he hadn’t seen her, “or if that was a subtle warning.”

I remember turning a blind eye when I saw my then teenage Leah smoking with some mates in Halifax market. I shared this recollection with Lizzie, and commented, “Men are Wimps!” Lizzie didn’t get long to read my response because FaceBook banned it as Hate Speech!

Wednesday, February 24th

I got a note from a best pal who went on to have a successful career supporting youths who’d been excluded for having difficult and challenging behaviours.

Tidy minded

When Dave Jackson was in his third year at junior school, him and another lad were called to the front for having the untidiest maths books in the class. The rest of the class had to decide on the victim to receive the punishment. “As it happens, I was more popular and the other kid got the whack. I found it one of the most horrible experiences of childhood. Aged 9, I was horribly aware of what was going on.”

Dave also recalls an extremely shy unsporty lad in his class who had “a single superpower in chemistry.” Their teacher was “giving us back our marked homework and took the opportunity to lay into Joey for how untidy his homework was. Joey, without missing a beat, piped up, ‘Have you ever seen Einstein’s handwriting? E=MC2 you can hardly make it out.’ We all started chanting, “Jo…ey, Jo…ey.’ It was brilliant.”

Thursday, February 25th

After a day or two, the swelling on Jude’s hand went down, but his fingers are still badly blistered. He made a support worker laugh when she came on duty, asking her, “Do you want to see my scabs?”

Miscarriage of justice

Our neighbour, Nicola Jones sent a note about unjust punishments in schools: “Vividly recall an unjust strapping at primary school. A rare morning snow and my friends were busy building a snowman on the school playground and didn’t respond to the bell. We had to be in the hall by the time the bell stopped. They all rushed to the door before me and even though I’d not been directly involved, I got shoved to the back and therefore added to the ‘naughty list.’ I was more angry at the injustice.

The power of the pen

Stopping physical punishment in schools must have been a topic during the 60s and the reign of the first Wilson government. In the summer holidays some lads from another Secondary Modern wrote to the local rag, arguing corporal punishment should be kept because without it kids like themselves might run amok. Irritated by this public bravado, I wrote a reply, describing what went on at my Sec Mod. The school wasn’t recording punishments, the same kids were getting belted all the time and it wasn’t improving their behaviour. I cringingly recall my final line about kids wanting to ‘escape the grey prison walls around them’.

A few days after my letter was published, I was strolling along in the sunshine and a car drew up alongside me. The driver was a Labour councillor who was head of our school governers. She smiled and invited me to get in. Then she asked me to name the teachers I attacked in my letter. I wimpishly said, I wouldn’t, because “they’ve done so much for me,” although that certainly wasn’t true of the stick wielding metalwork teacher, the punitive deputy head, the vicious PE teacher or the sadistic gardening/RE guy. I didn’t want anyone to lose their job, I just hoped they’d change their behaviour.

Back at school that September the routine whacks and slaps had stopped. Presumably under orders, none of the staff ever mentioned my letter to me, until a few years later when I revisited the school during my teacher training to watch a production of Oh What a Lovely War, and the bumptious Deputy introduced me to the new drama master after the show, saying, “George was one of our best English pupils, but watch what you say to him, he might write a letter to the papers.” Then he sidled off.

Friday, February 26th

New Scientist reports that 13% of primary aged children and 14.6% of secondary school students are known to suffer from at least one symptom of Covid after 5 weeks. Sometimes symptoms are lingering for much longer. At the moment there is no licensed vaccine for these age groups. Scientists are worried by growing evidence that a minority of children are developing Long Covid, a condition which medics have discovered affects a range of organs, including the heart and the brain.

A Catholic upbringing

Long before he became a solicitor famous for challenging injustice, Campbell Malone went to an RC primary school in Reddish. “Hated the parish priest coming round every Monday to cross examine us on which mass we had been to the previous Sunday. Always the last one, which seemed barely acceptable. Also, if the girls were naughty the boys had to line up and be caned across our palms. Learnt about the difficulties of chivalry and the pain of miscarriages, miscarriages of justice!”

Campbell remembers walking to school as an 8 year old when Derek Bentley was executed at 9am. “That did stay with me!”

Saturday, February 26th

Campbell Malone’s mention of Derek Bentley reminded me of the morning I walked to school on the day James Hanratty was hanged.

Bob all over

Monday, March 1st

photo from Pennine Heritage collection

LP Hartley wrote, ‘The past is a foreign country, they did things differently there.’ Here’s the crowd outside Hebden Bridge Town Hall watching the proclamation of the new King in 1911. I wonder how many will turn out when Charles finally gets his turn? Within a few years most of the men and youths in this photo fought in what Woodrow Wilson called, ‘the war to end all wars.

Monday, March 1st

Weather: low cloud all day. Cold wind.

Miserable weather. I’m taking vitamin D tablets.

Tea for two

Thinking about things being done differently in the past, I posted this image on social media. The poet, Clare Mulley commented, “So that’s where cup sizes came from.”

Tuesday, March 2nd

Weather: low cloud all day. Cold.

On my saunter, I saw Andrew Smith, who agreed it was not a good day for photography. He’d just been to the new wetlands at Brearley. He said the cloud cover was going to last all week.

I’m middle aged!

My soprano friend, Charissa Hutchins from Haworth, sent me this surprising and up lifting chart. Researchers in Austria have gauged the health and fitness of people from age 15 to 80, “We found that when the speed of life expectancy increase was faster, the new measures of biological ageing inrease more slowly…”

This slowing of the aging process has another effect that’s not discussed in this research. Younger people are remaining partly dependent on parents for much longer. The cause of this might be student debt and the collapse of traditional job for life employment. Or perhaps generation rent, knowing they might not retire till their 70s, are pacing themselves.

Wednesday, March 3rd

Weather: cloudy and cold.

I posted my interview with Chris Green of White Ribbon fame. He’s packed a lot into his life and that reminded me that I’d gone for a safer route. He doesn’t say too much about his early years, but I think it gave him the security to go the way less travelled. We’re better off because he did.

Flash fiction

Using the urban myth that Hemingway won a ten dollar bet that he could write a complete story in 6 words: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn” Smiths online magazine set its readers the task of writing their life story in six words:

Outside lavatory, worked hard, now flush.
Ashley Errington

Wrong era, Wrong Class, Wrong Gender.
Patsy Wheatcroft

Best selling author? Instead there's this.
Ann Cummins

Wasted my whole life getting comfortable.
Richard Merrington

I'm just happy to be here!
Graham Marsh

Hasn't Been a Jane Austen Romance.
Alexandra Lackey

Unfortunately I didn't buy the t-shirt.
Caroline Ryan

Knight on white charger never showed.
Jane Kirk

Any chance I could start again?
Sunny Tailor

Born, bred. Work, wed. Dad, dead.
Colin Penfold

Can I start wearing purple yet?
Sue Boswell

Laughed out loud, cried in silence.
Lisa from Weston

Ditched the map, found better route.
Gillian Smellie

Thursday, March 4th

Weather: mainly cloudy; brief spell of sunshine this morning. Cold.

A young woman bought a ticket in last week’s Euro lottery and her numbers came up. She won £182 million! So she alerted her bank to prepare them for her sudden windfall. Except she didn’t know her payment didn’t go through. There wasn’t enough money in her account.

Making mock

I remember from my time of playing outside that kids often confront thoughts of death and other terrors by by making fun of them.

Have you ever thought as the years go by
That one of these days you’re going to die
They put you in a wooden box
And cover you over with smelly socks

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out,
They crawl in thin, they crawl out stout
They bring their friends, and their friends too
Oh what a mess they make of you.

 Grim Grimm

In Germany, people voted this dark story one of their favourite folk tales.

Godfather Death

A poor man, on the birth of his thirteenth child, a boy, went looking for a godfather. He met God, who offered to become the boy’s godparent. The old man immediately refused, saying that God always gave to the rich and took from the poor.

He walked on along the road until he met Satan, who smiled and bowed and offered to become the boy’s godfather. The poor man said Satan had led him astray in his life and he had paid a high price for his follies, so he refused Satan’s  offer.

Further on he met Death, who also offered his services. The old man accepted, knowing that Death treats rich and poor alike. When the boy came of age, Death taught him how to cure people with herbs. Death said the physician would see him standing at the head of the bed when he visited the sick, as a sign that the cure would work. If Death stood at the foot of the bed, the physician would know that the cure would fail.

The godson became a great physician. One day, however, he was summoned to cure the King. He saw Death at the foot of the bed, but the physician realised how he could boost his reputation if he saved the monarch. So, instead of allowing Death to take the King, the physician got servants to turn the bed around so that Death was standing at the head of the bed. This trick certainly boosted the physician’s fame, although Death wasn’t at all impressed.

One day, the physician used the same trick to save the Princess, knowing that if he could cure her the King had promised him her hand in marriage. The Princess was duly cured and plans for a Royal Wedding were set in motion. Godfather Death had had quite enough of this carry on.

One evening Death visited the love smitten physician and invited his godson down into the underworld. There, in a cave, were thousands of burning candles, one candle for every living person. Death pointed to the impressively tall candles of the King and the Princess.

The physician asked if he could see his own candle. Death pointed to a short stub with a flickering flame. The godson could see where this was going. He pleaded with Death to extend his life so that he might marry the Princess and in time become King. Death told him he had given most of his allotted span to the King and Princes. Then he laughed, licked his thumb, and snuffed out the Physician’s candle. His godson fell down dead.

Friday, March 5th

Weather: cloudy and cold.

Jude got his Oxford, Astra Zenica jab this morning.

Poring over the budget details, journalists have noticed that 40 out of the 45 cities and towns given financial aid for their high streets are in Conservative constituencies.

Saturday, March 6th

Weather: cloudy early on and then the SUN - at last - came out.

Bridge Gate and George’s Square were bustling. Since many scientists reckon there’s little chance we’ll catch the lurgy while we’re outside, it didn’t feel too dangerous. Michael played his acoustic folk music, while Mother Shipton did her jig. He gave a decent rendering of Danny Boy. The secret is choosing the right key early on so you don’t strain too much when you have to be there ‘in sunshine and in shadow’, which I’ve never quite managed. The market was open and I couldn’t feel censorious with my cappucinno in my hand and only the darling daughter’s darling daughter yet to be vaccinated.

Sunday, March 7th

Local lore

Not many people - in fact no one but me - knows that, before it became a store for our drinking water, the stretch of Hebden river below the rocking stone at Widdop was a site for pagan ceremonies.

Wisdom reservoir*

Tarquin was a longhaired hippy of the Offcumden tribe. He asked Serena the White Witch how he might find enlightenment. She told him to visit his local reservoir when the surface was covered with a thick sheet of ice. There he must strip himself naked and plunge through the ice, when - as ancient wives have long said -  ‘It’s cold enough to freeze t’ balls from t’ brass monkey.’ On the shortest day of that year the reservoir was covered by a thick layer of ice, which Tarquin broke by lobbing a rock onto its surface, then he slowly lowered himself into the water. He did then loudly curse the false male god. Serena and her coven gathered round and when Tarquin emerged again from the icy waters they whooped and praised their Pagan gods, for Tarquin had taken on the ideal form of WOMAN, apart from a shrivelled appendage (which they detached in an ancient ceremony involving intake of mushrooms, sheep shears and chanting on the nearby Rocking Stone). Tarquin soon after became a member of the White Witch Choral Ensemble. The story of his transformation spread far and wide across those hills and it is said that few men from the hippy tribe have dared look for transformation in the icy waters of Wisdom Reservoir from that day forward, yet do women often visit of an evening when men from Yorkshire Water in high viz jackets are no longer in attendance.

*Wisdom reservoir, possibly derives from the Olde English ‘Widd-op, thought to refer to operations carried out by widows, or white witches’. Some scholars alternatively argue that the term originated from an auto correct spellcheck on a social media item posted by storyteller Paul Degnan of Ye Olde Town, who has recently celebrated his mother’s 100th birthday and his own 68th (which makes him middle aged). Congratulations to both!

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