Number Twenty-eight of the regular HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
Murphy’s Lore 28 - Tuesday, 9 July 2019
At Shibden Hall we enjoyed the video of Helena Whitbread, a retired history teacher, who spent decades decoding Anne Lister’s diaries, especially her laughter when she realised that an oft repeated marginalia celebrated what Kenneth Willliams, in his diaries, called having a ‘Barclays’.
One difficult challenge for the makers of Gentleman Jack, is Ann Walker’s story. Television can show the outward manifestations of madness, but even Sally Wainwright can’t depict its inner terrors.
Two generations after Anne Lister’s death, John Lister decoded parts of the diaries and discovered their shocking contents. He was enlightened enough not to destroy them. John was an interesting character - a supporter of the fledgling Independent Labour Party.
The disappearing MP
The Red & Green Club in Huddersfield was the base for Victor Grayson MP, a sometime Independent Labour Party member. It’s interesting to see the photographs of Grayson on the club walls, in his rebel rousing pomp. I remember as a child reading a comic strip story in The Daily Sketch about his mysterious disappearance, back in the 1920s.
Maundy Gregory was sent by special branch to spy on Grayson, who had connections to the new Bolshevik government in Russia. Grayson was tipped off that Gregory was a government agent and also that Prime Minister, Lloyd George was using Gregory to sell political honours. At a public meeting, Grayson accused Lloyd George of selling honours for between £10,000 and £40,000. He also threatened to expose ‘a monocled dandy’ with offices in Whitehall.
In September 1920, Grayson was beaten up as he walked along The Strand. Later that month, he was drinking with friends at a hotel in Leicester Square when he received a phone call. He told his friends he had to go out, but he would catch up with them later.
He was never seen again. David Clarke, who became Colne Valley MP in the 70s, after researching his predecessor's life, suggested that Grayson, a bisexual, was himself threatened with exposure, was warned off and actually lived on into the 1950s, under a new identity.
This week at the R&G, I’m reading alongside Tod poets Theresa Sowerby and H the Hatwoman. It’s the debut gig of The Calder Poets, a little troupe of performers, delivering verse which I hope will be ‘as light and sharp as an arrow’.
On the way to the Red and Green club, I usually call on friends who live nearby. She’s a well known artist and her partner takes her to galleries around the country, where he mounts her work and she introduces him to gallery owners and artists.
They met at art college, but he spent his career working with a firm who supply vintage furniture and fittings. With a colleague he was delivering some pieces in Shipley once and they called in at Salt’s Mill. They were dressed in overalls and he realised they were being followed round the gallery by Jonathan Silver, the mill owner, who must have thought they were planning to nip back that evening and load up their van with a few Hockneys. As they were leaving, he confronted them.
“Like art, do you lads? What’s your names then?”
My friend said, “Gilbert and George.”
Belloc’s light verse
Hilaire Belloc is remembered for his Cautionary Tales for Children. He said he wanted his writing style to be as clear as Mary had a Little Lamb.
Matilda, Who Told Such Dreadful Lies, Rebecca, Who slammed Doors for Fun and Perished Miserably and so on, are hilarious examples of light verse, a brave form that is always despised unless it is almost perfect in form, language and wit. Belloc was satirising pious Victorian moral tales. His rhymes inspired me to write some cautionary tales for modern youths.
At a Trades Club Open Mic, a 30 something rock guitarist liked my tale of Joan, who spent too long on her phone and wor eaten and when I sat down again he recited from memory the demise of Belloc’s Jim, who ran away from his Nurse, and was Eaten by a Lion. Here’s an extract …
Now this was Jim’s especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!
He hadn’t gone a yard when -
With open Jaws a Lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy; beginning at his feet.
Now just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted “Hi!”
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
“Ponto!” he ordered as he came,
(For Ponto was the Lion’s name)
“Ponto!” he cried, with angry Frown.
“Down, Sir! Put it down!”
The Lion made a sudden Stop,
He let the dainty Morsel drop.
And slunk reluctant to his cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper’s Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!
When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say: -
His Mother, as she dried her eyes,
Said, “Well - it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!”
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James’s miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse."
Butter up award
I’m enjoying Zebra by Hebden poet, Ian Humphreys, not least his recognition of the sometimes surreal nature of our existence - including round here. None of which would matter much if he couldn’t capture it dazzling and pulsing in perfectly formed vignettes. There’s controlled anger too against homophobic prejudice, from a craftsman carefully picking his punches. Worth your £9.99 and a toast from me.
One dank, dark winter evening, walking into town with my Present Wife, we’re opposite the pictures when I half notice a guy crouching in the bus shelter. As we walk past he runs out and jumps on my back. I look to his dapper mate, who is laughing at this unusual attack, whilst halfheartedly saying “No!”
I slowly wheel round a few times with this guy on my back, trying to get a look at him. Thing is, I might know him, it’s the kind of thing that joshing males might do to one of their mates - although not usually one of my vintage - so I determine not to yell and shout, in case it looks like I can’t take a joke. Practical jokes are seemingly funny to everyone, apart from their victims.
So I just keep turning in my slow orbit, with my burden on my back, uncertain whether I should be annoyed. When I don’t complain, PW thinks I must know this cowboy, so she stands idly by - as bemused as I am. When I finally get a glimpse of him over my shoulder, I realise he’s a stranger.
He’s in his late 30s, a bit drunk and has a naive look to his eyes that signals his needs are special. So I start berating his mate - perhaps he’s his support worker or brother - who again says, “No, no..” but still without real conviction. Picking up on this, PW orders Dapper Man to get his mate off me and finally my assailant gets down.
Afterwards I have a philisophical ponder about whether having a lightweight stranger on my back was more stressful than toting a daft friend round in circles.
Soapy and me
Tony Holland, at my secondary modern school, was a late developing lad who was always immaculately turned out and kept his hair parted and short, whilst the rest of us were sporting shoulder length locks. He never said a cruel word. I used to call him Soapy and inflict pretend fights on him in the playground, which my mates found highly entertaining. Tony always got a bit flustered and embarassed when I told him to get his dooks up and pretended to spar with him. He kept gently pushing me away, always trying to laugh along, to be a good sport.
A few years later - as a student visiting old haunts - I realised Tony was walking towards me. He was still immaculately turned out, but now he was broader and six foot four, with a look of Clark Kent about him, although without the glasses. On his arm was a tall, beautiful blonde, an English rose.
‘Hi George,’ he said in a deep baritone, obviously amused at my gob struck demeanour as they strolled regally past.
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