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Third series, episode 13

All 105 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

Episode 13 includes great escapes: sewage in Ilkley and a blue world in Tod; a round trip of Shropshire, the Cotswolds and the Peak District; an anniversary kiss and song; a new Mayroyd library; Tolstoy in Rochdale; a technique to defy death; footballers considered as proteins; a cautionary tale for teens and much more!

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Beware of the Wharfe

One day we headed to Ilkley, where the River Wharfe was once proclaimed the 'first officially designated safe bathing area in England,' but these days the riverside is littered with DANGER signs. Swimmers in the Wharfe's cooling waters have gone down with stomach bugs; a fact not unrelated to the relaxing of rules by Liz Truss when she was Environment Minister. Truss allowed farmers and water companies to double the outpouring of raw sewage and animal waste into rivers and seas.

So be careful if you head to inland or coastal waters in the fag end of this summer, unless you fancy seeing a Richard III bobbing past your nose. Think of Britain as being rather like the human body, its recreational areas sited next to its toxic waste pipeline.

We left our cozzies at home, went shopping and then on to Betty's, which had turned its air conditioners on full blast, so we kept our coats on. Sadly, since lockdown, Betty's has changed its famous Rosti dishes by plonking eggs on top of them. In mourning, PW cheered herself up with a Vanilla Slice, whilst I had a scrumptious Brownie with Caramel Ice Cream combo.

Black and blue

After a Todmorden Writers' Group Open Floor Night, I climbed onto the little stage at The Golden Lion, to take a snap and I accidentally captured a blue world, courtesy of an optical trick created by white stage lighting. This seemed fitting, as a poem entitled Blue, had been delivered by a droll East Lancs musician-poet called Mick, in honour of the upcoming Blues Festival in Colne, a festival that Hebden Bridge once hosted.

Back in '69, I bought The Story of the Blues, the second gated LP I owned after the The White Album. That winter, I was working in a Greenock psychiatric hospital and living in a nurses' hostel, where someone spilt candle wax onto The Story of the Blues during a party. A nurse cornered me for a chat to avoid being asked for a dance by a black junior doctor who wore a white coat having just come off duty. After her snub, I watched over her shoulder as he sauntered awkwardly around the dancers and snoggers for a while, sadly put down his unfinished sauvignon, stared over at me for a few moments and then slipped out of the room.

Good on one leg

One morning I tried standing on one leg to extend my longevity. The challenge is to stay balanced for more than 10 seconds. During this test, PW announced she was filming me. I actually managed 16 seconds, which according to boffins means that I'm good for a few more years yet. I posted PW's record of my stupendous achievement online, but received a note from my pal Paul in Luddenden Foot saying, "If you really want a wee George, just go for one."

Footballers as proteins

Watching Manchester United's victory against Liverpool, I thought of avid United fan, Dr Camilla Pang. In Explaining Humans (2020), she describes herself as being on the Autism Spectrum, with accompanying Attention Deficit Hyper Disorder. At school, she used to watch other children playing in the playground, but struggled to understand why kids subsumed their own characteristics in order to fit into a group. She got an epiphany whilst watching a football match on TV.

"They are like proteins!" she shouted.

"Just watch the game, Millie!" her family responded.

Having a deep knowledge of biology from an early age, the unusually disciplined model of the football team reminded her of how proteins act together to keep our bodies functioning. 'There are the protein equivalents of introverts and extroverts, leaders and followers, goalkeepers and box to box midfielders.'

I thought of the doctor again when reading an article about the way in which football managers use data and analytical charts. At many clubs each week's analytics are pinned up in the dressing room to allow players to check their own performance levels. Sometimes players subvert the system. At Manchester City, right back Zabaleta had a habit of sprinting around during stoppages in play. This helped him to improve his scores for distance run and sprints. Ben Haim, who played for Bolton and Chelsea, won a reputation for playing short passes to a defensive colleague, not to help win games, but in order to improve his 'pass-completion' percentage.

Invading Salop

We stayed with lifelong friends in Shropshire and engaged in a wine lubricated debate about events in Ukraine, inspired by agree to disagree podcasts from Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart. My mate is a pacifist and said he couldn't imagine shooting someone. I said, "Well, imagine you're in a cellar in Ukraine, armed with a rifle to protect your wife, daughters and granddaughters from Russian invaders … I reckon you'd try to defend them, don't you?"

Mr and Mrs

There are two public buildings in the isolated hamlet of Kelmscott. We stayed in a tiny room at The Plough Inn, where the staff served us a full English, but seemed surprised when we asked for milk to go with our coffees and, err butter to go with our toast. None of the staff had visited Kelmscott Manor, which is a short stroll along the lane from the pub. Helpfully, a waitress googled to discover the opening times.

The Manor opened at 11 am, the exact time when we tied the knot 49 years ago. When the door opened, we were at the front of the queue and the cheery woman from The Society of Antiquities was surprised but delighted when I asked if I could kiss my wife before entering.

As for Mr and Mrs Morris, the discovery of her private papers and drawings has led to a reappraisal of Jane Morris. Suzanne Cooper has argued in How we might live (2022) that Jane's contribution has been overlooked because she was a famous beauty, came from peasant stock and was notoriously unfaithful to her husband with his friend Dante Gabriel Rossetti - and many others.

One of the friendly guardians of the rooms was an elderly woman who wore a protective visor and said she was hoping for a really good downpour because the thatch on her cottage was in desperate need of a soak. Sure enough, when we stepped out of the Manor's backdoor, the heavens opened and we sat in the farmyard under a handsome wooden awning, next to the old brewery, and slowly did the quick crosswords.

Cromwell and the Levellers

In a crowded gingerbread coloured cafe in Broadway, a woman asked if she could share our table. When PW went off to pay, the stranger, with an intact but fragile Roedean alumnus accent, told me she retired to the Cotswolds after living in Birmingham, because, "We began to feel like strangers in our own country, because of all the immigrants." I told her migration was probably going to increase because of global warming, and asked how hot it had been in the Cotswolds during the recent heatwave. She said, "It almost hit a hundred."

After lunch, we went East to Burford, an older, paler version of Broadway, its buildings climbing up either side of a wide, traffic plagued shopping street called The Hill. We stayed in Sheep Street, one of many handsome side roads in the town, and scene of an affray when 340 Levellers were rounded up by faithful members of Cromwell's Roundheads. The Levellers had helped overthrow the King but didn't believe in extending their duties to fight against Popery in Ireland. Though some escaped, many were captured and imprisoned in Burford Church. For three days, without food or water they awaited their fate, scratching their complaints against Cromwell onto a window and around the font.

Eventually, Cromwell made an example of three men, who were shot against a wall to the west of the church. The executions were witnessed by other 'deserters' from the roof. In solidarity, we sat in the peaceful graveyard on an old bench next to the site of the killings.

Post script

In the 1870s, William Morris visited Burford Church with his family and the Burne-Joneses, setting off for a mini break in Broadway Beacon. Morris was so distressed by the poor quality of the recent restoration work in the church that he wrote a round robin complaint which within a year led to the foundation of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

Peak dining

The hostelries and guest houses of the Peak District are usually full when we try to visit, but this year PW found a pub with rooms just north of Chesterfield. Friday night, we sat down to dine, having bagged a window seat with views of rolling countryside.

I've been buying my own clothes recently, without even asking PW "Do I like this?" I managed to buy a suit from an Oxfam shop for only £4.95, which looked edgy: black with a pattern of squares outlined with red. I couldn't quite get into the trousers, but for that price who could complain? So I wore the jacket for our meal. Only for PW to stare at my preloved garment after I'd ordered drinks. She kept staring.

"What?" I said.

"Describe the trousers that go with that top."

"Well, they've got a drawstring lace which has temporarily disappeared through a hole, but when we get home I'll extricate it and wear the suit around town."

"I wouldn't if I was you. What you bought was a pair of pyjamas"

The Cautionary Tale of Tina Crumb

I drove back along Snake Pass past Ladybower and the exquisite, sunlit Hathersage valley. The journey lost its gloss approaching Glossop, where an annoying tracking light came on in the car, having snaked round one corner too many. After unpacking I found a new illustration in my Messenger app from J. Craig Melia, who was over his team's defeat at Old Trafford thanks to their lunchtime 9-0 defeat of Bournemouth.

Avoid the fate of Tina Crumb
Who loved to chew on chewing gum.
As muscles in her face rotated
It made her parents irritated,
But they'd been told by Dr Hayes,
'Don't rise to it, it's just a phase.'

But when that gum had lost its taste
She did not seek a bin for waste
But secretly, if she wor able,
Stuck balls of gum beneath the table
Till some adhered to Aunty Hilda -
On her best dress - she would have killed her!

But Mother, seeing t' situation
Banned forthwith gum mastication,
And banished Tina to her room -
A punishment that sealed her doom -
For Tina had a secret hoard
And chewed on it when she wor bored.

And in self pity Tina wallowed,
Two dozen sticks of gum she swallowed.
But chewing gum, each time we swallow,
Fills up bits that should be hollow.
And after her unhealthy feast,
Tina Crumb was quite deceased.

The Doctor told her tearful Mum,
"Your Daughter's all bunged up, by gum."

Off the rails

Stuck at home, can't get away? Well, the past is a foreign country. Try reading Malcolm Bull's collection of local news stories from long ago.

"On Sunday, 5th December 1847, a Lancashire and Yorkshire train arrived at Littleborough Station without breaksman or signal lamp which had been left at Eastwood. The driver, William Bates, was lying drunk and incapable on the footplate, and the engine was being driven by James Heaton, fireman of the Hebden Bridge pilot engine, who was also in a state of intoxication. The fireman, Oliver, also much in liquor, had fallen off or been pushed off near Summit Tunnel. Bates was committed for 2 months in prison, Heaton was discharged as he was not on duty at that time, and Oliver ran off."

No one round here reads Tolstoy

A box of books has appeared on the towpath by lock 8, followed by an online post, demanding, 'No porn!'

Carry on along that towpath and eventually you'll enter a world described in Mark Hodgkinson's, No one round here reads Tolstoy. Mark's teachers on a run down estate in Rochdale were too busy concentrating on their own survival to nurture his love of literature. Despite which, he eventually became a successful writer and publisher, and alongside his own works, he commissioned work by other northern writers and also edited J.D.Salinger, A Life, by Kenneth Slawenski, a biography based on JD's life leading up to The Catcher in the Rye, which was later made into a film.

In Hodkinson's autobiography, a moving description of his grandad's insanity and his granny's half century of care runs alongside his fascinating tale of bookworming into books. So I won't be placing it in the Lock 8 book swap box for a while yet.

Slow Dancing

Here's my anniversary song to PW. After 49 years we're hoping to hang on for a Gold award.

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