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Murphy's Lore

Number Twenty-four of the regular HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.

Murphy’s Lore 24 - Tuesday 11 June 2019

On the Road

George Murphy

Chichester: Roman and medieval walls still top the city’s ramparts. There’s a vivid red window by Chagall in the cathedral and The Arundel Tomb:made famous by Larkin’s poem. A stone knight has touchingly taken off his gauntlet to hold his wife’s hand for eternity. Larkin, being Larkin, came to dislike the poem as sentimental - ‘love is not stronger than death.’ But the ending is often quoted:

Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

Southern TV News was full all week of nonogenarian locals, talking about their trip to Normandy in ’44, and comrades who did not grow old, nor return to hold the hands of their loved ones.

The narrow, snakey, Lanes in Brighton are full of galleries, cool cafes and - on sunny days - glimpses of sunshine winking on waves. If Hebden had a dream it would wake up as Brighton, with a Green MP and a gay red one and a Royal Pavilion - but fewer floods, for now at least, and no Craig Whitaker. You win some, you lose some.

At Kelmscott, we caught up with ex Hebdeners, Sylvia and Pete, to enjoy Morris’s marriage of craft and art. The Wadsley Nelstrops had done their research and had a better B&B than ours, with lovely food. To be fair, our first B was ok, but waiting for the second, we heard the microwave turning my scrambled eggs to rubber.

Instead of complaining, we headed north, listening to Joni Mitchell singing ‘California, I’m coming home,’ although, maybe she’d go to Amsterdam, or maybe she’d go to Rome, from a time when travel wasn’t an ‘issue’ and Hebden was a still a rundown milltown that one day would dare to dream.

The art of complaining

I’m not accomplished at complaining. At Stow on the Wold, I told the waitress our scones were stale. She said, 'You're lucky to get anything on a day like this!’

But I've improved. Back in the 80s, I bought a hot dog in Ripley and when I broke it open there was a cockroach mid sausage. PW sent me back to complain.

I returned munching a replacement hot dog, which the shopkeeper had been only too keen to provide - and for no extra charge, but PW didn't congratulate me.

Treacle pudding

One teaching practice, I taught the last lesson in the morning and my tutor gave me feedback in the break. Fortunately, the dinner ladies had saved me a plate of fish in breadcrumbs, mashed potatoes, peas and overboiled cabbage. I sat with two female teachers and Kipper Tie, the only guy on the staff.

Kipper Tie didn't include me in his conversation about getting ‘rat arsed’ with his rugger mates, although his companions tittered. When I finished my meal, he looked over with dead eyes and said, 'Students usually go for the puddings.'

Well, it didn’t bother me if teachers got waited on and students didn’t, because the women at the hatch liked me. I lined up with the kids and I came back with a tureen of pudding and a jug of custard. I tipped the pudding into my bowl and was pouring the custard over it when I noticed that KT and the Groupies looked as gob smacked as Sonny Liston. I realised, just too late, that the treacle pudding wasn't all for me.

Tasted nice though.

Butter up award

While we were away, I asked PW to choose a foodie favourite for this week’s award. She voted for an early bird menu - good value if you get there before 6.30, great flowers from the posh florists on each table and they give you a delicious free ‘taster dish’, while you’re waiting. The new decor lifts the spirits. So this week, let’s hear it for t’ Early Bird, upstairs at T’ Old Gate!

Storytime in the 50s

Stories can be spell binding and the spell works best on children. In the last lesson of the day, white haired Miss Smith used to read to us from The Magic Faraway Tree. I was transported into another world. There weren't any books on the shelves for us in that infant classroom and there were lots of better writers than Enid, but they knew what they were doing, Miss Smith and Enid B.

What’s more, we didn't have to do a Literacy Hour or prepare for SATS, we just closed our eyes and escaped.

A story to tell *

Maggie Power asked if she could co-edit this book, about the power of storytelling in schools. Which was good luck because she knew the publisher I’d chosen.

I included an interview with Christine McMahon, from Blackshaw Head, about her storytelling in prisons and classrooms. As well as my lucky break with Maggie, who got some great contributors, I had one of those spooky coincidences. Sitting in a pub in Whitby, former student Sally Greenwood, on a romantic break with her husband, wandered round for a while and then sat next to me. I’d lost her contact details and now here she was, not knowing I was next to her. So I tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to send me the essay on Storytelling with Key Stage 2,she had once written for me.

In another chapter, Headteacher Dave Jones recalled a storytelling project at his Buttershaw primary school, on Holocaust Memorial Day. In a final assembly the children did a presentation and David invited members of the local community, including elderly folks from care homes. The children read extracts from Anne Frank and some told the true tales of Jewish children who escaped the Nazis, some of whom were sheltered by non Jewish families. After the assembly an elderly lady, Bronia Veitch, approached David. They both had tears in their eyes when she revealed she had been a ‘hidden child’ in Belgium.

Preparing the book, we went into schools and told stories. At one school, a boy said to Maggie, ‘That story was so good I’ll tell it to the cat!’

Yonderly John

A rich businessman moved into the big house in the village. The house looked out on a beautiful scene of rolling hills and manicured lawns that swept down to his private lake. Then one day he looked out and saw a row of molehills had appeared, quite spoiling his immaculate lawn. So he put a poster in the local pub for a Mole Catcher - with a reward of £5.

Five pounds being a lot of money back then, Yonderly John thought he could do with that reward, for he’d scarcely been able to hold down a proper paid job in all his days.

Sure enough he slept out on that lawn for several nights and one day he went up to the big house and asked the master for his reward, for he had the mole trapped in a cage.

John took the cover off the cage and the little creature sniffed and squinted up at the rich master who lowered his great, angry face to examine it.

"Well, John, you’re not so yonderly after all. Here’s your reward and I’ll give you another £5 if you can execute this snuffling, trespassing creature in the most terrible way you can think of."

So John went away and he thought about the different ways of executing creatures and sure enough he went back two days later to the big house and the master came to the door.

"Well then, John. Have you killed the velvet vandal in a terrible way to win your £5?"

"I have sir."

"Let me think now. You’ve tied a stone to its neck and tossed it in the lake?"

No, worse than that sir."

"You’ve tied it to a post and set it ablaze."

"No sir, even worse than that."

"Well, then John what horrible execution have you performed?"

"You’ll be glad to know, sir - I buried it alive."

Readers write

From Andy Chambers, about ML 23,

Hi George. Fascinated by that picture of your band at the Trades. Was the Siouxsie & the Banshees backdrop part of the furniture, evidence of a previous engagement or some other connection? Horace Batchelor on percussion hey?

Actually, Kenny from Boulderclough was on the drums. We went on one weekend between gigs by PJ Proby and Nico and we were the act that got asked back. Andy reckons we’d have been more fun than Nico, but I think the key might have been that we were cheaper.

As for Siouxsie and the Banshees, I was just thinking that former Trades Club official, Chris Bragg would be the man to ask about that, when lo and behold, Chris wrote in about my Cyril Smith item. I’ll give more room to Smith, that Humpty Dumpty figure, whose reputation can never be put back together again, in a future issue.

Which reminds me, Chris (and John Morrison) was very good on Bernard Ingham’s rants at gay sex and his slanders against the Hillsborough fans. I am presently sharpening my pencil for a tilt at Sir Bernard in the near future.

* A story to tell (2009), Trentham.


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