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Murphy's Lore

Welcome again to the second series of the popular HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.

Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 5: Lockdown diary
Monday, 18 May 2020

Monday, May 4th

My inbox has filled with heartfelt comments from friends about Nora Barton, Shaggy Dog’s 96 year old Britain’s Got Talent star. Here’s Nora, when she was a youthful 88 in Jason Elliott’s video.

Jon, John and Grayson

Before lockdown, I picked up local comedian Jon Richardson’s Its not me, Its you, from the Greyhound Charity shop. It opens with a quote from John Updike:

Perfectionism is the enemy of creation, as extreme self-solitude is the enemy of well being.

That second clause seems prescient, thinking of all those living alone and self isolated just now. The first clause makes me think of Channel 4’s Grayson’s Art Club. Perfectionism can be a block on creation. There’s a place for it later in the process, but you need to spit before you polish. What’s intriguing is Updike’s linking of the two statements.

Jon Richardson seems to have cheered up since he wrote his book. Then again, back in 2008, he was single and living in Swindon.

Tuesday, May 5th
PW tells me there’s a powerful storyline in Coronation Street just now; a woman has attacked her abusive husband.


On average, two women are murdered each week by their partners in the UK. This number has doubled during lockdown and calls to hotlines have increased by 120%. When women do manage to escape to a place of safety, they often fear that their abusive ex might track them down. ’Twas ever thus …

Thats Bob All Over

From the school, she can hear an old song and quietly, she sings along …

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…
And eyes and

Picture Bob’s eyes, he couldn’t disguise his surprise when he happened to greet her, and she asked for a bob for her meter.
And then there’s his ears - though he’d had them for years – heard her sobs in his bedsit above her, and he wondered if nobody loved her.

And also Bob’s nose, that awoke from repose when t’ fragrances rose of bread making, although midnight’s a strange time for baking!

And moustachioed lips, that drank tiny sips, though all t’ nips that she quaffed were much neater - when he called round to fix her old heater.

And consider Bob’s chest, against which she pressed, and confessed that her husband had beat her, and Bob wondered if life would defeat her.

Also his belly, full of custard and jelly, celebrating our Queen’s coronation, when they called for three cheers for our nation!

Below that’s his groin, that did briefly conjoin with her loins; but she made him feel bad - when she said he looked just like her dad!

So he settled for teas - with a tray on his knees - and a big slice of cheese and some ham, till t’ day that she mentioned a pram.

And picture Bob’s feet as he ran down t’ back street, not as fleet as her husband, who caught her, and pinned her down in t’ coat Bob bought her.

And imagine Bob’s hand, round a large rock spanned, but she killed the man that she married, with the knife that she always carried.

So what of their necks, and where did t’ rope flex? Well, Bob smashed in t’ skull, as she plunged in t’ knife; but, her womb wor full – so the judge spared her life.

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.
Head, shoulders, knees and …”

That song had gone and round in her head, like a needle stuck in its groove - and then she felt Bob’s baby move.

Wednesday, May 6th

blossomTime to cast a clout?

Hawthorn is blossoming earlier this year. Driving along the main road today, the blossom was all the more cheering because I hadn’t noticed or appreciated it in the past, when I didn’t have the luxury of sauntering along at 30mph without a tail-gating car filling my rear mirror.

Date nights

After 7 weeks at home with a son in his thirties, we have an irritating feeling that there’s something missing from our lives, an itch that needs scratching. Then we look up and tell each other “Date Nights!” Yes, that slow smouldering ember that gets ignited by coinciding with Wine Night and a good edge of your seat TV murder mystery, probably set in the Arctic Circle that finishes whilst you’re still in the mood and she doesn’t want to curl up with Hilary Mantel and I don’t mind two timing Angela Carter. All over Britain, thirty somethings have moved in with their parents to protect them, thinking they’ve saved their bacon; not knowing they’ve cut off their ration of passion.

The Sage Professor

Neil Ferguson, whose mathematical model persuaded the government to order a lock down, has resigned from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies after his lover visited him at his home. An artful woman would have had herself posted inside an Amazon parcel.

The artful woman

A woman was so pleased with her lover that she fed him half the oat cakes from the bread bin and then half filled it with chaff so that her husband wouldn’t find out. Afterwards, she worried he would uncover her artfulness.

One morning her husband said he was going to plough the sloping field near the mire. As soon as he set off, she sneaked out and ran through the woods so quickly that she arrived at the mire before him. She stripped naked and rolled in the mire till she was covered in mud. Next, she slapped mud pies on her cheeks and decorated them with grass and dead leaves.

Then she hid under a willow till she saw her husband approach, when she leapt out and shouted, “I am the goddess of the mire and I will take away the pig from your stye!”

Well, the hapless husband staggered back astounded!

The goddess of the mire quickly added, “But if you need your pig that your wife doth so dutifully feed up every day, give me half of thine oat cakes and I will fill t’ other half o’t bread bin with chaff.”

The husband knew he needed the pig to see him and his dutiful wife through the winter, so he told the Goddess that he would like to keep his pig, thank you. Then he raced home and found that the Goddess had already filled half the bin with chaff, but at least his pig was still safe and sturdy in its stye. What a relief. He just wondered how he’d explain the loss of oatcakes to his dutiful wife.

Meanwhile, the artful woman quickly bathed and changed her clothes and came home past the village pump where she told the other women her story with great pride.

Thursday, May 7th

Poundland has brought out a vibrator, a fact not unconnected to the plummeting sales of condoms. A Hospital Consultant has admitted kitting out his front line team with goggles from the same store. Perhaps Matt Hancock should put in a bulk order - for goggles that is.

Jude once bought lighters at Poundland, three for a quid, and went outside to light up. A policeman appeared and asked him to prove he’d bought them. Jude didn’t know what he meant. So the constable, on the search for the Mr Big of local crime, took him back into the shop, where the shop assistant vouched for him. Since then, Jude’s tried to remember to ask for a receipt after even minor purchases. I’ve told him to stop wearing a hoodie, it fits the police identikit for wrong ‘uns, but he models himself on his cousin in Durham. He looks up to his cousin. We all do - he’s 6 foot 4 - and doesn’t get much hassle from the fuzz.

Friday, May 8th

This is a Halifax Courier photograph of crowds listening to the declaration of peace in 1945

VE Day

Tonight we watched Their darkest hour, when Winston Churchill, played by Oscar winning Gary Oldman, dissuaded his party from petitioning Hitler for a peace deal after the overthrow of France by “mobilising the power of the English language.”

Last night at 8 o’clock, we were out on our balconies along here, banging pots and pans to the surprise of the birds in the woods opposite, when another Winston ran along the road and took a share of the acclaim, like a bespectacled Olympian in the home straight. He looked slightly abashed, but I thought of the passing poet as representing the triumph of Everyman. It was a win Win situation.

Saturday, May 9th

Turns out Neil Fergusan’s married lover is in an open marriage. I’m sorry Neil, but why should all the other lovers out there go into celibate hibernation at your behest, then be expected not to snicker when you get caught out? Think of all the fancy men or women they could have been entertaining …


Sunday, May 10th

On the Andrew Marr Show, a renowned statistician said it is valid to group the UK with the ‘bad states’ in Europe and it’s probable we’ll end up having tens of thousands more COVID-19 deaths than ‘the good states’, such as Germany, Greece, Portugal and Norway, where they acted promptly, isolated sufferers and their contacts and used rigorous testing. Today the Prime Minister is setting out his Road Map for driving forward out of Lockdown. He’ll be thinking, ‘I wish I wasn't starting from here.’

Theresa Sowerby, one of the Calder Poets, ‘the awesome foursome’, has been writing a poem a day using translated proverbs and sayings from other countries.  

Proverbially Boris

We all know Boris has been riding the goat for a while and is all loved-up. All holed up too in his posh hideaways.

They asked him to attend a Cobra meeting. He emailed back:
Work is not a wolf. It doesn’t run into the woods. There is no cow on the ice.

They asked him to lead a second cobra meeting.
You’re making an elephant out of a goat. Stop ironing my head.

They asked him to a third cobra meeting and he polar beared, pacing back and forth in a bumbling fury.

They asked him to chair a fourth cobra meeting, said the experts, desperately worried. He assured them all was under control. and as for experts:
Well, even monkeys fall out of trees. Besides I’ve other cats to whip.

They asked him to a fifth cobra meeting. He was sweating carrots, his ears were lined with ham and he shrieked:
Don’t chop my tea kettle. Go pick mushrooms.

A month later he was recovering from the virus. He and his mates read the Sunday Times exposé and rumour has it you’d think they’d swallowed grass snakes.


  1. Work is not a wolf, it doesn’t run into the woods - I’ll do it later
  2. There is no cow on the ice - nothing’s wrong, stop panicking
  3. To make an elephant out of a goat - don’t make a mountain out of a molehill
  4. Stop ironing my head - stop annoying me
  5. To polar bear - pace up and down in a fury
  6. Even monkeys fall out of trees - even experts get it wrong
  7. I’ve other cats to whip - other fish to fry
  8. To sweat carrots - get worked up
  9. Have ham in one’s ears - deliberately not to listen
  10. Don’t chop my tea kettle - stop annoying me
  11. Go pick mushrooms - go away
  12. To swallow grass snakes - be so insulted you are unable to reply

Monday, May 11th

There’s been a mixed reaction to last night’s prime ministerial address. Apparently darling daughter can meet one of us in the park, but not both of us. The working classes must be chuffed because now they can play a round of golf or go to the tennis club. That will probably be after work mind, because labourers are expected to pitch in from Wednesday, as long as they can cycle to work or catch a bus - if there’s no one else on it.

Tuesday, May 12th

Jude still gets asked to prove his age. He told me he was in Morrisons with a support worker before lockdown and tried to buy some cigs. The shop assistant, feeling maternal, leaned over the counter and said, “Eee love, don’t get started on smoking, you’ll regret it.” The support worker said, “Bit late for that love, he’s thirty one.”

A Todmorden friend has sent me a powerful piece posted by Momentum.


Home schooling

They say some stories stay with us for life. Here’s an Aesop fable I remember reading in a Wide Range Reading book, more than 60 years ago.

The Wind and the Sun

The wind and the sun had an argument about which was strongest. The Sun suggested whoever made a traveller take off his coat would prove to be the most powerful. The Wind blew with all his might; but the stronger it blew, the more the traveller wrapped his coat around him, and the tighter he grasped it with his hands. Then it was the Sun’s turn. With warm beams the Sun dispersed the vapour and the cold; the traveller relaxed again and, as the Sun shone brighter and brighter, he sat down, took off his coat and rolled it into a pillow. Then he lay back and rested.

The victorious Sun declared that persuasion is better than force, for a kind and gentle manner will sooner lay open a poor man’s heart than all the threats and force of cruel authority.

Wednesday, May 13th

Riggs’ Garden Centre opened again. It felt like we were at a masked ball, a slow ballet of social distancing performed by aged troupers steering trolleys. At the checkout our assistants were both called Jasmine.

At PMQs, Keir Starmer wrong foots Johnson on the issue of deaths in care homes, by quoting Boris’s own comments back to him. Starmer asks why the government has stopped using the chart showing the comparison with other European countries in their news briefings. For a moment the chamber is silent as a courtroom. Then the PM waffles some unconvincing alibi, knowing the jury won’t be giving their verdict for years yet.

Thursday, May 14th

Wake up to read that councils in England will suffer a loss of £3.5 billions this year.

Labour’s analysis shows that if councils don’t cut back their social care budget they will have to close all libraries, children’s centres, leisure centres, stop all spending on parks, turn off all street lights, carry out no winter gritting and end all planning and building control work. Post virus we wonder if Jude will have a care home to go back to.

Sunshine again and bit more vitamin D.

Jam intpan

Here’s Rod Dimbleby telling a classic tale, probably in a care home, back when storytellers were allowed to have an audience …

Recording of Rod telling Jam in t’ pan

Friday, May 15th

A woman’s body has been found in the canal near where Walkley’s used to be. On What’s App someone shares some of the details. Police are not treating the incident as suspicious. Poor woman, poor family.

Saturday, May 16th

Coming out day

Once upon a time, I was strolling along Hebden Hey, high in the Crags, when it felt as if the road was shifting in front of me. After a moment, I realised there was an army of tiny, nut brown reptiles ahead of me. When I stopped, so did the tiny creatures - or at least the ones close by. When I moved forward again, they crept forward too. Later, I sent a note to the local Natural History Society, describing my experience. Someone replied, ‘This sounds like the famous March of the Toads’. These immature toads were heading en masse towards one of the dams, relicts of our industrial past, that are dotted around the Crags. It felt magical and magic is a necessary ingredient in fairy tales.

COMING OUT DAY: A Fairytale of Hebden Bridge

Responses to ML 2: 4

Pam Dimbleby wrote, “I enjoyed that. I liked Debs Newbold with the Shakespeare. Thanks for including mum. Nice to hear ‘Le Grand Depart’.”

Frances Robinson: “Good stuff.”

Thanks also to Clare Shaw, who made me laugh when we passed in Midgehole and dropped me a line to say how much she enjoyed Debs’ performance and Winston’s ‘lovely poem’.

Readers write

Jenny Nicholson has described her walking experiences during lockdown

It's good to smile and greet everyone you pass nowadays, if it's your only contact with a person for that day, it might be theirs as well. I always have done anyway, and always will do. Brings a smile to your face when you thought there wasn't one there.

People respond well normally, except for people (young ones normally) who are wearing earphones (not headphones).  Why do these earphone wearers ignore me? Is it their volume?  It's not like they can't see me in the crowd!  I also have started wearing earphones to listen to a story as I walk, to take away the isolation.  I can still hear the birdsong, I can still hear and see people around me and the sound of footsteps or children's voices.  I will have to assume that is how they are dealing with their own thoughts.  Shame though. 

A distancing dance.....this walking.  Designing a route which is least hazardous.  Quick stepping to a wider spot in the path to let people through;  side shuffles into the hedge; bowing in thanks, choreographing your way through a tricky narrow footway, so you have it to yourself,  waiting for the best spacing;   balancing precariously near the river bank;  pausing to ensure you have a clear walk through till the next passing place.  

Manoeuvres that once we would have giggled at, thought the other person was acting daft......all taken very seriously now.
I want to rant about cyclists who zoom past, in the middle of the path, very close,  no slowing, no recognition you are even there, no bell rung, no warning called.  No chance to give yourself clearance.  I just want to unbalance them, but they're gone before you know it.  Not all cyclists....just enough to muddy the water for the more careful ones.  This isn't a Covid-19 phenomena....the path ownership between walkers and cyclists is always a bone of contention.

Paul Degnan has invented a tale that draws from the past to comment on the present.


Odin’s ravens Huginn and Munnin flew into the god’s marble courtyard to report on what they had seen in Hebden Bridge during the Lockdown.

“What are they saying?” said Odin.

“Some people think the virus is caused by 5G masts o great one,” replied Huginn.

“Others think it’s a government conspiracy to erode human rights,” added Munnin.

Odin smiled and said, “Aha, Loki the mischief maker is at play.”

Huggin and Munnin continued.

“Some people think it’s the end times and they will be saved.”

“Others think aliens are coming and they face Ragnarok, the war to end all wars.”

Odin beamed. “Aha Vidar, god of vengeance, is at play.”

There was more…

“Some people think nature is having her say and they’ve bought it on themselves.”

“Others think it is time for mother earth to have a rest from human activity.”

Odin grinned. “Aha, the goddess Freya is at work.”
The ravens carried on…

“Some are enjoying being at home with their families and spending time with their children.”

“Others are baking bread, growing their own food and enjoying being quiet.”

Odin laughed. “Aha, my wife Frigg is at her best.”
The ravens were on a roll…       “

“Some are zooming about, listening to music, dance and storytelling.”

“Others are face to face with yoga, tai chi and singing.”

Odin mused. “Aha, Bragi the bard is at play.”

“And the weather, what about the weather!” Odin rasped.

“Yes, the sun is shining, Spring is in its fullness.”

“People are seeing the beauty of nature.”

Odin looked smug, “I am pleased that Balder my youngest son is doing his work, but what about Thor, my eldest son?”

The ravens walked around at random tapping their beaks on the ground avoiding Odin’s eye.

“Well, what have you to report on this matter!?”

“He’s sulking, o great one,” Huggin said nervously.

“Yes, I’m afraid so master, he had a tantrum and broke his hammer and then he left under a cloud to go to his caravan in Asgard,” Munnin added fearfully.

“What! My eldest and dearest, why so?”

“The word is that the people of Hebden Bridge are so fed up with all the rain from his storms that they’ve banned him from the town.”

Odin ground his teeth.

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