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Third series, episode 10

All 102 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In episode 10 of series 3, the heat is on. School trips are recalled, there's a farce within a farce and a comeback fashion suggested; fear is dissected, birds and bees respected and there's homework (to be inspected); there's an update on omicron, a Teepee City and finally, some sung tips on dating.

The heat is on

The temperature is rising, which shouldn't be surprising. Through the winter I complained when weather forecasters anticipated sunshine 'except in the Pennines'. Now they are predicting temperatures will reach 100 degrees fahrenheit in Leeds and Manchester. The charts show the heat spreading north like two inflamed lungs, either side of this backbone of England. It's only a few degrees below the oven like heat either side of us, but I'm glad we are where we're at. Mind, perhaps we should move up to Heptonstall, to lop another couple of degrees off.

School trips recalled

Photographs of polar bears - Tom Simkins

Last week of term, and a small party of uniformed tots in yellow bibs filed past me on the towpath. Back home, I'd received photographs of the old polar bear enclosure at Chester Zoo from one of my FaceBook groups. The startling images reminded me of another school trip in a story told by a friend.

Greta was Head of an infant school in Mixenden back in the 70s and 80s. On a trip to Chester Zoo, she told some boys to stop climbing onto the wall around the polar bear pit. One lad ignored her and clambered up even as she was speaking. Greta hauled him down and, forgetting her progressive instincts, smacked his bottom. The lad was shocked and his face crumpled into sobs. Then a teacher shouted, "He doesn't go to our school, Greta." As the kid ran off to find his mum and dad, Greta left her deputy in charge and headed off to the school coach, where she hid till hometime.

Photographs of polar bears - Tom Simkins

Eileen Sparks read my Greta story and sent a tale about a school camp in the Lake District from when she taught at Brooksbank.

"A girl was seated nearby and had just unwrapped a Mars Bar when a colleague (a nice chap apparently) ran over and took a mighty bite and returned to me saying, 'That was delicious, and a lesson in sharing.' Maybe that would have been a vague excuse for an impulsive action but the girl was not one of our kids. The poor child looked traumatised and her parents looked bewildered."

I reminded Eileen of an incident on a ferry trip to France for 6th form leavers, when an officious, pin-striped teacher patrolled the overnight cabins, spotted an open door and smacked a naked male backside with a rolled up copy of The Daily Telegraph, only to discover that the bottom belonged to a Swedish tourist.


In a nostalgic mood, I dug out a photo from my days at Stanney Secondary Modern, where I was Headteacher in a farce, as part of an inter-house drama competition. My friend David Jones, playing an ancient caretaker, a doddery forerunner for Julie Walters in Acorn Antiques, stole the show. Whereas I was told by the adjudicator, an actress from The Gateway Theatre in Chester, that my performance " … hovered in uncertain fashion between Jimmy Edwards in Wacko and Alistair Sim in St Trinians."

We were all miffed by the timing of the play because we were plunged into our roles just before our GCE/CSE exams, when we should have been swotting, rather than learning lines (lines which we hid behind various props). The many prompts from offstage by a teacher called Barney (he ran a lunch time barn dance club) rang out whenever there was a short dramatic pause, which I personally thought added to the farce.

Seeing this picture, my sister Kath reminded me she once had a line in Iolanthe on that same stage. I asked if she still remembered her words six decades later. She did, the line was, "I want to be a fish."

What goes round

Now that bell bottom trousers, Kate Bush, strikes and other 70s fashions have made a comeback, I wonder if wealthy trendsetters will become more daring and take a leap into the more distant past as a way of displaying their status? Perhaps, as austerity bites, they might travel back in time, far beyond the winkle picker 50s and advertise their wealth by adopting the fashion for long toed shoes of the 14th and 15th centuries, when shoes sported skinny points that stretched for up to twenty inches? These expensive and impressive items were often stuffed with moss and other fillings in order to keep their shape and were worn as a status symbol by the high society nobs of the time. Sometimes men used whalebone or gold and silver string to tie the shoes to their knees to prevent tripping, which sounds like fun. The fashion trend lasted throughout Europe for 150 years, social media being slower in tipping off fashionistas about the need to move on in fashion back then.

Our love of fear

My son's favourite movies are Horrors and Cop Thrillers. In The Idiot Brain (2016), neuroscientist Dean Burnett discusses why we like to be scared by frightening films. Scans reveal that the thrill of fear and the buzz from receiving praise arise from the same side of the brain. They both gives us a dopamine rush but the lasting effect of feeling fear is more powerful.

Some types of fiction are more scary than others. The thrill of playing a video game is less powerful than watching a frightening film or reading a Stephen King novel because we have control over a game and can pause it and even try to determine its outcome. The less control we have over scary sensations, the more thrilling it is. But there's a difference between fun-scary and terrifying. As Burnett puts it, 'Falling out of a plane with a parachute is exciting and fun. Falling out of a plane without a parachute on your back is not.'

Birds and bees do it

I received a postcard, signed by a Miss Anne Thrope (possibly Thorpe?) from Mankinholes, regarding my song about The birds and the bees.

"Is the sex lives of our fellow creatures all you are interested in?!" She appended references to scientific research into the creatures' cognitive abilities (see below)

Bird brain

In The Parrot in the Mirror (July, 2022) Antone Martinho-Truswell draws on the work of Irene Pepperberg, who has uncovered some staggering examples of advance cognition in her 30 year study of language used by Alex, an African grey parrott. The bird not only answers questions, he asks them too. And he gets annoyed if people give him silly answers. Expect to see Alex asking politicians for straight answers in the near future.

Bee plus and A starred

Professor Lars Chittka thinks bees have emotions, can plan and imagine things, and can recognise themselves as unique entities distinct from other bees. In The Mind of a Bee (2022) one experiment found that bees learnt to choose the face of the lab technician who rewarded them with sugar from an array of human faces. They also learnt to count landmarks when flying towards a sugar reward, even when the landmarks were placed closer together. They could identify a sphere visually when they had only previously felt its shape in the dark. As for showing emotions, bees acted more warily after they witnessed a simulated crab spider landing on a flower. After which they cautiously inspected every flower in the lab before landing.

Chittka began to realise some individual bees were more curious and confident than others. "You also find the odd 'genius bee' that does something better than all the other individuals of a colony, or indeed all the other bees we've tested."

Home schooling task

Ask your parents about Ian Dury and the Blockheads. On YouTube find a recording of Reasons to be Cheerful. Now write your own version, but notice that we have changed the title to Reasons to be fearful.

Meanwhile, have a lovely summer, but use plenty of suntan lotion if you venture out. We look forward to seeing all of you in September.

Reasons to be fearful

Complete the lyric in your own words - watch news items if you run out of ideas.

Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?
Why don't you get back into bed?

Reasons to be fearful, part three

Reasons to be fearful, 1, 2, 3

Summer …

Omicron carries on

Last week, three and a half million people tested positive with the virus, including my son and my daughter's partner. PW and Jude were due to spend the weekend in Durham, but PW's cousin and her husband have also gone under. The vulnerable and the over 50s will be offered jabs from September. Amongst my acquaintances, some have suffered from long, debilitating bouts of flu. So, in the autumn, older and more vulnerable people will be offered a jab in each arm. Apparently, fewer people are dying in the present wave but hospitals are in danger of being overwhelmed.

And finally

On social media I've been asking people if they've seen any swallows this summer. We don't seem to have them round here. I also mentioned that we are getting a greater range of birds visiting bird tables in Mayroyd, possibly because of the wilderness that's grown up just downstream from here 'where Teepee City used to be.' Blow me down,Teepee city never existed according to two of my correspondents! Well, they've obviously never read Hippy Valley: a secret history

Next time

Continuing the nature theme, I'll give results of my survey of migratory birds (Spoiler alert: everyone seems to have seen swallows apart from me - just seeing one would make my summer).

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