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Third series, episode 12

All 104 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In Episode 12, there's infernos old and new, going underground in Haworth, a vintage rally, Damien in the cut, women tittering and testing, a lioness scoring and the decline and fall of men, Liz Truss in Hebden Bridge, Rishi Sunak in Tunbridge Wells, books recommended and the Cautionary Tale of Fred (who had two faces on his head).

Before the inferno …

Episode 12

Photo of the Burlees Mill fire, with the kind permission of Sarah Courtney

Sarah Courtney's photo of the Burlees Mill fire captures the ferocity of the blaze, which gutted La Perla and other small businesses and studios. Despite the damage to the mill, everyone was relieved that no lives were lost, and nearby houses didn't catch fire.

Mill fires have been a feature of Hebden Bridge's history. Big fires are both terrible and awesome. The Foster Mill fire of 1888 was said to have 'lit up the valley,' and a local paper described 'scenes of wild excitement that evening as a huge crowd gathered, many of whom arrived by train.'

The Foster Mill fire of 1888 - with thanks to the Hebden Bridge History Society

Back in 1828, a fire at Foster Mill was caused by a small boy, who snuffed out a candle and 'threw the snuff on the floor of the scutching room, where piles of loose cotton were lying.' The resulting fire threw 600 people out of work, but whether it marked the little mill worker for life is unrecorded.

Cool guy

One Tuesday, I called on Jude in the White Lion. He said he'd seen me earlier in the square, "You looked cool, dad."

"Thank you son," I said.

"You looked like Hannibal Lecter."

Going underground

First Thursday of the month I drove Heather Wilson and Paul Degnan to Haworth Storytelling Circle, in its new home, a Slovakian charcuterie off the cobbled street, where the tales are told in a wine cellar.

During a break we were toasting the new venue, when I noticed a fly was swimming in my Tempranillo, which I quickly spooned out, mentioning to the gathering as I did so that a house fly had also got into my glass of Malbec just the night before, butting up against my bottom lip as I sipped. Scouser Craig Melia, suggested it might in fact be the same fly, enjoying a second glass after sleeping the first one off overnight in my mouth. Whereas I pondered whether it had been put there by one of the little people. Slovakian folklore is full of tales of mischievous, sometimes subterranean, creatures called cobolds. Slovak colliers traditionally believed cobolds were expert miners, and the Cobalt mineral derived its name from legends of cobolds adding arsenic to the cobalt rocks the men were mining.

Ra Ra Rotary rally

Vintage vehicles aren't my thing, but friends I bumped into shared their enthusiasm for the gathering of gas guzzlers at the Rotary Club charity event in the park.

Folk singer Brian said it's his favourite weekend of the year, whilst neighbour Beryl caught sight of ancient tractors and was transported back to her childhood on a farm in west Essex.

Kirk arrived in our midst and said some of the cars were from the era when he learnt to drive, which made him feel rather antique.

We never had a car in our family, so I didn't share my friend's warm nostalgia. Our dad had learnt to drive in Burma during the war, but he didn't bother to get a licence after he was demobbed, thinking ownership of a vehicle might prove too expensive.

One summer in the 50s, he bribed a workmate to drive us to Rhyl, but when he puttered up to collect us, the guy didn't seem to share our excitement. Perhaps he doubted whether his old banger would last the distance, and sure enough it conked out somewhere in wildest Flintshire. We all sat forlornly on a grass verge, recovering from diesel fumes, whilst our driver walked to a phone box in the next village. When the man from the AA arrived, he told our taciturn chauffeur that his big end had gone. What his big end was, and where it might have gone, I still have no idea.

A Cautionary tale

At the Rat and Ratchet in Huddersfield, I recited my tale of Damian, which was inspired by a real encounter on the Stubbing stretch of the towpath - the rest of the story is also true.

Damian had one great defect,
He showed his elders no respect.
At Secondary School, it's sad to mention,
How often he wor on detention,
He hoped to get more friends, alas,
By being t' biggest clown in t' class.
And on a Speech Day, for a dare,
Put a whoopy cushion on a chair.
And so it was, that thoughtless chump,
Caused our Lady Mayor to trump.

But imagine a poet, most august,
(I'll be your model, if you must),
Strolling along, taking his time,
Antennae tuned into t' sublime,
Sucking upon a Haliborange,
Whilst trying to find a rhyme for orange,
Enjoying the scene he loved so well,
Barges moored along t' canal,
When out of nowhere, you know who,
Damien leapt out shouting, "WHOOOH!"
He hoped that he would get a laugh,
From Poppy, Gaz, and gorgeous Kath,
For he had thought this frightful din
Would make our bard jump out o t' skin!
Only to find, to his distress,
Our poet wor once in t' S.A.S.
And Damien's plight wor quite precarious,
That poet wor tuned like a Stradivarius,
And though he wor four decades older,
He threw young Damien over t' shoulder!
And spiralling through the air he fell,
Wit' giant SPLASH! into t' canal.
And after a few moments pause,
Our poet's ears filled with applause.
For Damian's mates, as youngsters can,
Felt great respect for that old man,
Who smiled at them and blew a kiss,
Then wondered off, in a state of bliss.

Could this be true, who wor this feller?
Friends, it wor me, your storyteller!
So remember Damien (I think you'd better)
A little wiser, but so much wetter!

Willie titters

One morning, I dodged the busker in the square, and found a table near the shallow waters of the River Hebden, only to get distracted by four elderly women at the next table. Shielded by The Times, I was drawn in by a sudden sotto voce turn to their conversation - writers are licensed to tune into whispers.

"Have you ever watched … that programme … Naked Attraction?"

"Aw, don't get me started, all the lasses have no pubes! It's unnatural!"

"I admit to having a laugh at the men's willies on occasion. In all their shapes and sizes!"

"Some with rings in them!"

"Men's bits are so ugly!"

"Do you reckon?"

"My first husband had a big one, but it wor proper bent; he could have fired round corners with it!"

They whooped with laughter after that. And for a while afterwards their suppressed giggles bubbled up now and then, until they dared to look at each other, when laughter gushed forth once more.

Dabbing their eyes, the women had just managed to regain a more composed air as their menfolk returned, fresh from a swift pint in the Swan. After which, I detected a matronising but not unsympathetic tone in the women's voices as their husbands rejoined them, 'You all right, boys?' said one. Their old fellers' old fellers might be botched jobs, but at least they took pity on them for it.

A Lioness scores

I came in from watering the parched pot plants that afternoon and noticed PW was reading an article in The Times about a new sex toy for women, which somehow I'd miissed. Apparently, scientists have discovered and labelled three types of female orgasm: avalanche, wave and volcano. And Times journalist Jane Mulkerrins, had tested the new Lioness vibrator, "As far as I know, the only sex toy to share its name with our heroic England national sports team - a sponsorship opportunity that surely cannot be overlooked?" to see which type of orgasm she has.

The device was invented by 31 year old techno engineer, Anna Lee, who thought there might be a gap in the market after learning that male engineers tested vibrators on the tip of their noses. The founder of one company told her, "The nose's sensitivity is considered close to that of the clitoris." Give me a break!

After sampling The Lioness, Mulgerry reckoned her orgasms were "a tsunami - or an avalanche crossed with a wave." Blimey.

So perhaps men's days are numbered, after thousands of years, we have finally become disposable. Mind you, who'll take the rubbish out to the bins when we're discarded, that's what I want to know.

Do you know the way to Todmorden?

Next day, off to the docs, I encountered a couple on Station Road who wanted to walk to 'TodMORden' but instead were heading towards Mytholmroyd. When I put them right, the woman said, "But the sign says …"

I told her to ignore it. "Oh, and by the way, it's not TodMORden, if you want to impress t' Tod lot, you have to pronounce it 'TODmorden'."

As for the surgery, Old Town storyteller Ingrid had tipped me off the night before at The Rat and Ratchet, and sure enough, I was able to book an appointment with a real GP after three years of suffering the side effects of taking a hypothyroid tablet and two weeks of pain in (according to PW) my mastoid. The GP gave me "a thorough MOT," checking my blood pressure and heart rate and peering for some time into my ears (from which I half expected a fly to crawl out).

After getting my results, I trooped sadly home and told PW the devastating news.

"He said, there's nowt wrong with me!"

Plaza piece

Sorting my downloads into files, I found a circa 2014 piece, and thought, 'Did I write this witty ditty, or was it writ by Anon, one of my favourite authors?'

They met at the Plaza ballroom
And their love life was always complete,
They were only a poorly paid couple,
But they knew how to make ends meet

Whoever the author was, I don't imagine the location was the same Plaza where Jay Gatsby encountered Daisy Buchanon. Perhaps the Plaza in Huddersfield is more likely, as it once had room for 1200 dancers of a Friday night, two of whom might have inspired this little tribute.

Liz Truss in MacPhelah

I was reminded from a post by the dramatist Chris Reason, that Liz Truss stood in Calderdale in the 2005 Election, when she lost to Labour's Chris McCafferty. Before the vote, locals were invited to meet her at her temporary home across the way from here. By all accounts it was a strange occasion and a friend was struck by Trusses 'vacuity.' She'd been parachuted in to replace Sue Catling, who was dropped from the ticket for having an affair. Remarkably, on the election trail, Liz was accompanied by Tory MP Mark Field, with whom she was having a thing. A local Tory involved in the candidate selection process said, "Had it been known, she would not have been selected. We wanted someone who was beyond reproach in their political and private life."

In her latest campaign, Truss is saying she won't resort to giving 'handouts,' despite the dire economic situation. She calls it socialism.

Rishi Sunak in Tunbridge Wells

Meanwhile, a film was discovered of Rishi Sunak talking to Tory members in Royal Tunbridge Wells, back in 2012, where he boasted that Labour's support funds for people in deprived urban areas had been diverted to more rural locations, such as Tunbridge Wells. It's not that people suffering rural poverty don't need to be supported, it's the fact that funds were diverted from people in urban constituencies that's always disgusted me.

I've been reading:

Written in Bone, by Sue Black (July 2022, Penguin)

Forensic pathologist, Black was in a mortuary one day, having been asked to check some bones which she quickly determined were from animals. Nearby, a pathologist was examining the body of a young boy who had committed suicide. She stopped and looked at the x-rays on the pathologist's screen. She said, "That's interesting," pointing to little white 'Harris lines' on the boy's tibia. The gaps between these lines indicated that growth had occurred again before being interrupted. She surmised that the stuttering in growth occurred due to illnesses.

It was only months later, when she met the pathologist again at a bar during a conference, that she discovered the real cause of the stutters in the boy's growth. The pathologist said that the boy's parents were hoteliers and only got away on their own every year when Grandad, the dad's father, looked after the boy. When the police asked him if they could think of a cause for the boy's death, the father broke down and told them that his father had abused him as a child, but he thought all this behaviour had ended. Grandad was interviewed and 'after indecent images were found on his computer' he confessed that he had abused his grandson.

In this book, Sue Harris makes public that as a child she was violently assaulted and raped by a lorry driver who delivered produce to her parents' hotel on the west coast of Scotland. She didn't tell anyone about it for ten years, but aged 19 she confided in her mother, who told her she was making it all up.


Phillip Larkin, Poems (2011) selected by Martin Amis, Faber and Faber

I'm rereading this collection and after reading the passage on rape by Sue Black, was struck by Deceptions, a poem about a 12 year old girl who was put into service. The poem opens with a quote from Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor:

"Of course I was drugged, and so heavily I did not regain my consciousness till the next morning. I was horrified to discover that I had been ruined, and for some days I was inconsolable, and cried like a child to be sent back to my aunt."

Larkin's poetic response ends:

Slums, years have buried you. I would not dare
Console you if I could. What can be said,
Except that suffering is exact, but where
Desire takes charge, readings will grow erratic?
For you would hardly care
That you were less deceived, out on that bed,
Than he was, stumbling up the breathless stair
To burst into fulfilment's desolate attic.

And finally …

As it's the holiday season, here's a warning.

The Cautionary Tale of Fred

Murphy's Lore, the book is available to order here

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