Third series, episode 37
All 129 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.
In the latest instalment of Murphy's Lore, there's Maisie Trollette and David Raven, new director Lee Cooper, Sylvia, Ted and a dryad, Sam Fitton and Alan Fowler, award winning Gaia Holmes, a Kraken and remarkable nuns.
It's in the stars
A woman in Hebden Bridge on her phone, said, "Some things I can't just do when I fancy. I have to check my stars are in alignment."
Thinks! One hundred years ago in those same streets …
Mother: (Shouts from her bedroom across landing) Sandra! Knocker-upper rapped on t' slate ten minutes since.
Sandra: I'm not going to t' garment factory today mother. My stars are not in alignment.
Mother: But it's gone four thirty, can tha not hear clogs clattering down t' street?
Father: Get thissen down them stairs!
Sandra: It's alright for thee our dad, tha shift's not till six thirty!
Mother: Lying in bed won't pay board an' lodging, our Sandra!
Sandra: (shouts) Right. Well don't blame me if I get mangled in t' machinery.
(Bumping noises from Sandra's room. Door slams. She stomps downstairs)
Mother (whispers) Stan … Stan … don't go back to sleep, Stan. I want my ration of passion Stan.
Father: Eee lass … I wor hoping for an extra half hour.
Mother: Never mind that, Stan Ackroyd. Venus is in alignment wi' Gemini … Stan!
I went to The Picture House, at the start of Pride Week. Maisie is a documentary about 89 year old David Raven and his stage persona, the Brighton drag artiste Maisie Trollette. New director Lee Cooper and his editor had captured the acerbic and funny interplay between David and his onstage partners. I was proud to realise how accomplished and distinctive the British drag tradition has been.
In rehearsals, The Trollettes harmonised beautifully and their humour was bawdy and well delivered. In the sixties their success led to pantos. They became friends with celebrities. There was, however, a dark side to their world. Raven recalls a show at a Brighton pub that was raided by the police. Raven dashed off stage to the bar, and a police officer sidled over and suggested to the landlord that his mother (Raven in drag) should be sent upstairs to safety.
A Q&A followed. Cooper is interested in making a documentary supporting older gay men as they enter the care home stage of their lives. He doesn't want them to spend their last years stuck next to homophobic residents.
PW writes: Whilst giving Jude some money out of my purse, a £5 note slipped into the grid. It landed just where it could be seen, but the gaps in the grid were too narrow to retrieve the note. When I went back to the car it was still looking at me. I asked if they had any narrow tongs at Goo Cheese. The wonderful woman who was serving came outside and inspected the grid. Then went back into the shop and got a long knife, and with Sellotape on it she probed, but only sent the fiver further down into the grid. Then she said she liked a challenge and got another long knife and used the pair like tongs, and after several attempts, she got my now mucky fiver out. I thanked her profusely and she looked pleased that she'd done it.
Trailing clouds of glory
Here's mini me, aged ten months, with older sisters Kath and Sue, in our post war prefab (I don't remember the prefab). A few years later, the first strong impression I had about life was that people, even other kids, seemed to think we'd been here for ever, and were already getting a bit stalled with life. When I said, "A few years ago we didn't exist. This is amazing isn't it?!" They thought I was a bit odd. Whereas, I was slightly outraged that I didn't have a choice about whether I should go to school or not. I mean, I didn't ask to be brought here and some of my teachers apparently detested kids, including me.
Times I loved: waking, when a dream outlasted sleep for a few moments. When Father Christmas was true. When snow fell overnight and the whiteness woke me to a new world. When white haired Miss Smith read to us from The Magic Faraway Tree. Saturday morning at the pictures with my mates.
Sylvia, Ted and Daphne
After they married, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath stayed at The Beacon, in Slack. Ted was having seances, researching into pagan religions and consulting Tarot cards. Sylvia satirised him in a secret rhyme she wrote in her journal.
On the difficulty of conjuring up a dryad*
My trouble, doctor, is I see a tree,
And that damn scrupulous tree won't practice wiles
To beguile sight: E.G., by cant of light,
Concoct a Daphne.
My tree stays tree.
*Tree goddess, Daphne
A shaggy dog tale
To the Stubbing Wharf and a packed Shaggy Dog night. A grand time was had by all, except for those who hadn't checked the roadwork times on Market Street!
I could have strolled to Stubbings from Mayroyd in no time, but, living so close to the station, I like to give a lift to those who have travelled to the club night by train. Somehow, I thought t' roadworks didn't start till after midnight.
So it was when confronted by a ROAD CLOSED sign and a line of huge tarmac laying, headlight glaring mechanical beasts, that I decided to turn around and drive back back to Mayroyd via Walsden, Blackstone Edge and Cragg Vale.
A mental trick at such times is to remind yourself in the words of Rod Dimbleby, Yorkshire dialect storyteller, 'It murra bin wor' (it might have been worse). So, I consoled myself by remembering that time when we lived at Mill Bank and after a visit to Gordon Riggs Garden Centre, I told PW I'd like to walk back along the canal towpath and she could pick me up en route. Unfortunately, PW drove back via Littleborough, the way we came, and I set off towards Tod. There were no such thing as mobile phones in those days. So I even walked up to Midgley where I knew there was a phone box, but when I rang our home phone, PW was out in her car, still looking for me and worrying I might have fallen into the canal. After four hours I got to our house, and we were both so happy to see each other we couldn't even argue over who was in the wrong. (Her as it happens).
Sam Fitton at Heptonstall
Saturday evening, I drove up to the Heptonstall Museum, to see Alan Fowler's talk on Sam Fitton, a cotton worker, poet, cartoonist and performer. Alan reminded the audience of the industrial realities of working class life that are ignored in traditional histories of the time. Sam contributed weekly cartoons and poems to the Cotton Factory Times from 1907, contributing over 400 amusing and touching tales of the Lancashire cotton industry.
Recently awarded a £10,000 Arts Foundation Future Awards fellowship for place writing, Gaia Holmes is described by Write Out Loud as `living in Halifax on the top floor of a ramshackle mansion that Dorothy and William Wordsworth used to visit. Gaia featured in The HebWeb Interview with Winston Plowes. Her collection, Where the road runs out (Comma Press) was my favourite book of the year – and the Arts Foundation agreed! She has included a short introduction to this new piece, Below the thunders of the deep.
The Spider's Web Of Fiction
"Fiction is a spider's web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is barely palpable." Virginia Woolf.
This year, for over three months, there was a loud, anti-social sea monster of a man living in the flat next door to me. The walls here are very thin. It was frightening. His presence was intrusive. Often it felt like we were in the same room and I was dodging all the cups and curses he threw, hoping they wouldn't hit me.
"If you continually write and read fiction, you can change what's crushing you." Jeanette Winterson.
My way of coping was to write about what was happening. I changed what was 'crushing me' by fictionalising and embellishing the facts (with smoke, tentacles and general witchery) and, through this process I discovered that the act of writing fiction can be empowering. In fiction I could take control of parts of my life that, in reality, were beyond my control.
Here are the results. I'm not sure if you'll be to discern the places where the spider's web of fiction is attached to the facts, but I'll tell you now - no real names have been used and the bit about the potato is true!
Below The Thunders Of The Upper Deep*
A month ago, at 2am, I was sitting in almost complete darkness except for the glow of my laptop screen. I suppose I was hoping that the house wouldn't see what I was doing because it seemed dirty, wrong, unfaithful. And later, when I'd finished the dirty deed, I erased my search history, just in case.
A month ago, at 2am, I'd been scrolling through pages and pages of 'Flats to rent', bland places with 'modern facilities' in 'convenient locations' with 'airy walk-in wardrobes' and I'd wept as I scrolled because I didn't want modern facilities or airy walk-in wardrobes. I wanted to be here in my flat in this crooked little mansion with its leaks and its whispers, its history, its wonky kitchen shelves, its view of the hills above Ainley Top, its mice, bats and spiders and its garden full of fat pink roses and birdsong.
The walls between the flats here are very thin, in fact the walls between the flats are not even proper walls. They're made of plaster board or balsa wood or babies' breath. They are insubstantial barriers between our lives. They might as well not be here because you can hear almost everything that's going on in the room next door. You can hear sneezing, creaking, cursing. You can hear kettles boiling, taps dripping, plugs being pushed into sockets. Some nights when there's no wind or rain you can just about hear the heartbeats of your neighbours.
I've lived here for over five years now and I've always been lucky to have peaceful, respectful neighbours who've made nothing more intrusive than the everyday sounds of life. So when the Kraken moved into flat 14 next door it was a shock. Before the Kraken, my neighbour had been a quiet woman who filled the whole of her front room with sewing machines. She worked at a cardboard box assembly factory from six am until four pm. When she got home she sewed maps of the sky which she told me she intended to sell on Etsy. When she was working on a machine it was quite loud but somehow the low, industrious whirring never bothered me, even if it went on after ten o'clock. When she left, the place was empty for months. I missed her presence and the busy hum and whirr of her sewing machines, but after a while, suddenly, when I'd just got used to the new silence, one afternoon towards the end of February, Flat 14 became a rowdy pocket of Bedlam and there was this angry man in there banging and bruising things and ranting and using graphic and colourful language that featured lots of Cs and even more Fs, singing loudly and tunelessly along to dance music on the radio. Saying "You know what I mean?" to no one. His noise continued throughout the night and, because I was frightened, I didn't intervene.
The next night the same thing happened but, irate and emboldened by my lack of sleep, I decided to confront the issue. At three am I bashed on his door with a lump hammer and asked him, please, to turn the music down. Surprisingly he did but then the next night it happened again only he had some friends around and they sounded intimidating and I could hear them talking about Brighouse, drugs and scoring and 'fucking' this and 'fucking' that and you wanker, bastard, cunt and I was not brave enough to wield my hammer.
I called the landlord, told him about the noise. He said he'd get The Kraken's case worker to go round and have a word. She turned up the following day flashing her lanyard. When she'd gone, the Kraken was relatively quiet for a few days and I managed to get some sleep.
Unfortunately, the peace didn't last. Within a week my Kraken neighbour was roaring and raging again. I started sleeping in the small storage space beneath my mezzanine bed squeezed between boxes and bags of tinsel and baubles wearing earplugs with the lump hammer and my sharpest knife next to the pillow.
When things got too bad and it sounded like bones might be broken, I called the police. I had to do this several times and after each call I'd sit trembling behind my front door waiting for the sturdy and reassuring tread of police boots on the stairs. Always, after each intervention, he'd be quiet for a few days and I'd start thinking maybe he's not that bad, maybe I'm just shamelessly greedy for the rare luxury of silence, maybe I'm being oversensitive? Maybe I should give him one more chance.
Maybe that's why he's so wild, because no one's given him another chance, because he's been passed from place to place like a bowl of rotting fruit. Maybe, I thought, I could change that, save him from his own monsters, release the man from the thrashing Kraken, calm him down. I imagined talking to him, telling him about the birds, pointing to them where they tweeted and chattered in the trees, teaching him their common and Latin names and sitting in the garden with him, sharing a flask of tea and a packet of custard creams, watching the bats and listening to the owls at dusk, but after a particularly bad night when he bruised the walls with his fists and the air with his curses, I realised he probably wasn't going to change and that I definitely didn't have the capacity to change him. I ended up back under the bed wearing earplugs with a knife and a hammer next to my pillow as I sat there trying to calm my nerves by sticking pins into a raw potato onto which I'd drawn his face with a marker pen.
But it wasn't just the noise that troubled me. It was the used needles and the blackened twists of foil outside by the big bin, the sense that something dark and unpredictable was happening in the flat next door. It was the knowledge that not all knives come with safety sheaths, the knowledge that our lives are so flammable, the knowledge that it only takes a few minutes for a whole house to burn down to the ground if the wind's blowing in the wrong direction. It was the awful stench coming from his lair, a vile cocktail of cat shit, marijuana smoke, dirty socks, dried blood and fly blown bladderwrack.
When the Kraken got a fix he grew extra arms and became louder.
When the kraken got a fix, I wedged a chair behind the door, crawled under the bed with a bottle of wine and listened to the sound of the sea on my headphones, but I could still hear his ghastly, grating voice above the waves.
When the Kraken got a fix, the house wanted to hide in its own corners and all the bats, mice, rats and spiders left the building.
When the Kraken got a fix, he lived loudly and cruelly and then he sort of powered down and died for a while.
It lasted for the whole of February. As I said, the walls are very thin. I could hear everything and, very quickly, I learned a lot about the Kraken. I wrote it all down.
What I know about the Kraken.
His real name is Christopher Alfred Pickles. He is 51 years old. He has size 9 feet and a 'thing' for brand new trainers. He doesn't drink tea or coffee. He has not yet used the cooker in his kitchen. He has no pans or cups or plates and hardly any cutlery except for several spoons. He rarely sleeps. He has not yet used the shower in his bathroom. He urinates a lot. He smokes a lot, roll-ups and joints. He is always losing his tobacco. He cannot get through a whole sentence without swearing. He is on a drugs rehabilitation scheme. His drugs rehabilitation scheme is not working. He gets his drugs from Brighouse or from a flat at the bottom of Lister Lane, usually on a Tuesday. He has a Lancastrian girlfriend called Tara. She comes round most weekends and he shouts and swears at her. Sometimes he hits her. Sometimes he won't let her leave. Sometimes he tells her to "Just do one and fuck right off!" or "Get out of my fucking head!"
He blames Tara for a lot of things including stealing his lighter or tobacco and hiding his trainers. He has a cat called Fat Boy Slim. He loves and respects Fat Boy Slim more than he loves and respects Tara, his trainers or anything else. When he talks to Fat Boy Slim, says "Come here my beautiful boy!" he sounds almost nice, almost human. Fat Boy Slim is the only member of the household that eats and sleeps properly.
On the 7th day, I phoned the landlord again. I said, "Why have you let a monster move into flat 14?" He said he'd give him another warning but nothing changed. The noise continued as the Kraken spat, roared, thrashed his many arms, broke chairs and punched the walls.
And some nights my Kraken was joined by other Krakens and I could hear them boiling up teaspoons of crystals over the hob flame and breaking bottles and hitting each other. I could smell blood and anger and that blood and anger was carried on the soles of their bare feet and spread around the building
I was forced to adopt the Kraken's life style. If he didn't sleep for a week, I didn't sleep for a week. If he had Galaxy FM on loud, I had radio 3 on loud and our musical tastes clashed and spat at each other. Like the Kraken, I hardly ate. I stopped cooking shortly after he moved in because I realised it's virtually impossible to cook something worth eating when there is a sea monster cussing and raging behind the wall and I suspected that anything I cooked would have the overwhelming taste of oil slicks and gritty North Sea salt. I switched to an easy diet of 'things from tins on toast' and sometimes I didn't even bother with a pan or a gas hob.
I also started f*****g swearing more when I had no f*****g reason to swear which really worried me and p****d me off because I'm not a natural swearer and I was horrified to find myself punctuating almost every f*****g sentence with bad language. You know what I mean?
One afternoon when I was putting my rubbish out I saw Charlie from flat 7 in the carpark. He looked quite excited.
"Have you heard the news?" he asked.
"They're sending the nuns around to sort things out!"
And he was right. The following day three nuns turned up in a black car with tinted windows and moved into flat 16. They were in traditional 'nun garb', black and white wimples and long dark habits. They brought barely any luggage, just a few cardboard boxes, a battered Scrabble set, a stack of chunky prayer books and a huge pressure cooker that looked as if it had boiled a lot of grains and pulses in its time.
You could tell these were genuinely good nuns. You could feel the benevolence radiating from them. You could feel it seeping into the walls, circulating through the veins of the house and trying to make things right.
Later that day, the nuns knocked on my door and introduced themselves. They said "We understand you've been having trouble with your naughty neighbour. Well, we're here to sort him out. With any luck, if he's like the others we've dealt with you'll start noticing an improvement very soon."
I asked them what 'sorting him out' might involve and they told me that they'd start with the old school method of giving him 'a good telling off', washing his mouth out with soap and water and getting him to write: "I must respect my new home and my new neighbours" five thousand times.
Then, they said, there'd be a few days of the 'like-for-like' treatment during which he'd be forced to listen to things he didn't want to listen to such as plainchant, Bach, babies crying, Woman's Hour, Richard Clayderman and Gardeners Question Time for intense two hour periods. Then, they said, they'd get him doing a bit of Community service around the house – weeding the garden, litter picking in the car park, sweeping the communal stairs and the hallways and repainting the main door a shade of holy blue.
"You look rather worn down dear," the nuns said. "You've probably not been sleeping or eating properly since the naughty man moved in have you?"
I nodded my head.
"Not to worry. We'll bring you some hearty soup later to help you get your strength up. Now we'll leave you to get on with your day. Would you like us to bless you before we go? We have to ask… these days blessing someone's like taking their photo. You have to get their permission."
I agreed to accepting their blessings and then they asked me "Wet or dry blessing dear? With or without holy water… Well it's not actually proper holy water because it's hard to get hold of around here. It's just Highland Spring from the supermarket but it seems to do the trick. No one has complained yet."
I opted for the 'wet blessing' and they made the sign of the cross in the air, rubbed my back, muttered something and flicked water onto my face. After all those heavy Kraken-tainted days it was a cool and beautiful feeling to be blessed by three nice nuns.
Later, as promised, they brought round a pot of five-bean soup and advised me to listen to something flutey and calming on my headphones because they were about to start 'the treatment' and things might be a bit noisy for a while. I didn't put on my headphones because I was curious to hear what was going on.
The 'good telling off' sounded rather frightening and included lots of words like HELL, SINNER, DAMNATION and REPENT. This lasted for about an hour and was followed by the sound of the bath being filled then lots of splashing and swearing from the Kraken. I heard him shouting at the nuns, "You just put fucking soap in my mouth! You're a bunch of fucking nutters!"
This was followed by the 'like-for-like' treatment which must have been conducted through headphones because I didn't hear Bach or babies crying. All I heard was the Kraken raving "I don't care about the female menopause or fucking begonias! Please, no more Radio 4. Turn it off! Let me go! Make it stop! Please! I promise I'll be quiet!"
And on that first night that the nuns came to deal with the Kraken, he kept his promise and I had a deep, rich, uninterrupted sleep.
For the rest of the week, the nuns kept the Kraken busy doing community service: litter picking in the car park, polishing the banisters in the stairwell and dusting down the electric meters in the meter cupboard. The building started to smell of lavender and when he came back to his flat after a hard day's work, his presence was slightly less intrusive, but he still continued to swear, bang around, kick the walls and make himself known and I could feel his arms thrashing on the edge of my life and my tattered posters of gilded saints fluttered in the backdraught of his wild and salty ire.
On Friday, the nuns asked me if I'd like to join them in the garden at six. "You're okay dear," they said. "We've plugged the naughty man into 'In Our Time' with Melvyn Bragg, handcuffed him to an exercise bike in his flat and told him he can't have a ciggie or see his cat until he cycled 70 miles. He'll be busy for a while."
When I went down to the garden, the three nuns were squeezed onto the little wooden bench. One of them had a dinner plate full of sliced Mars bars and Milky Ways on her lap. Another was smoking a camel cigarette and the third was sipping a can of G&T and doing a cryptic crossword. I must have looked a little shocked because they said "It's Friday night dear. We like to indulge our vices for an hour every Friday night. Don't worry, afterwards we make up for it in prayer. Would you like fags, booze, chocolate, all three, or a nice cup of tea? We've brought a flask out."
I went for G & T. and chocolate. One of them started rustling a little packet of cat treats. Fat Boy Slim emerged from the bushes and trotted across the lawn towards us looking very smooth and silky and as if he'd had his colours turned up. He was glowing beautifully in the evening sun, like a back-lit har of marmalade. He smelled of Vosene and coconut.
"The poor boy was rather slothish, dusty and subdued. His fur was full of fleas, fag ash and tangles and he reeked of wacky baccy," the nuns explained, "so we gave him a bath and a good, thorough grooming, pepped him up with a bit of Vivaldi and he's been bouncing around like a kitten on amphetamines ever since."
They started to tell me about the Kraken's progress. They told me "He's quite a difficult project. Very angry all the time. Very shouty. Very Sweary."
They said they had almost run out of 'mouth soap'.
They said "We've searched very hard but there doesn't seem to be much good in the Naughty Man. Sadly, it seems that his heart is as black and bitter as a pickled walnut and his only softness is rot."
They said it's like he swallowed an oligarch.
They said it's like he's permanently sitting on a cactus. He's always roaring.
They said it's like he was weaned on vinegar as a baby.
The week passed and nothing seemed to have changed with the Kraken. Every night he cussed and roared and kicked the walls and, consequently, I hardly slept. So when Friday night came around again I decided to go and have a chat with the nuns in the garden. They were all squeezed on to the little wooden bench as they had been before. One of them had a whole chocolate cake on her lap which she was eating, out of the torn box, with a dessert spoon. One of them was clutching an ashtray full of cigarette butts and appeared to be chain smoking. The third was drinking Blue Nun straight from the bottle. They all had purpling bruises around their eyes and looked very sheepish when they saw me, including Fat Boy Slim who was on the grass by their feet gnawing the head off a vole.
"It's been a very bad week with the naughty man, a bit of a rough one. He's got nifty little fists at the end of all those arms" they said.
"Usually at this point in the programme he'd have progressed to the basics of knitting and gong baths with Sharon but he's nowhere near ready for purling and good vibrations.
He's still cussing, flailing and raging, sinking ships and breaking cups.
We think we might have failed you. We've tried our best but you can't really save someone who doesn't want saving.
You can take the man out of the naughty, but you can't take the naughty out of the man.
We're afraid we're going to have to pass this problem onto the higher powers. We're just going to have to hope and pray for a divine intervention and they're not easy to come by. You can't just order them like pizza… we haven't got time chat my dear because we've got lots to do. Now you go back inside and be sure to lock your door tonight and wedge a chair against it. Would you like a blessing before you go?"
"Wet or dry?" they asked me.
I opted for a wet blessing and they made the sign of the cross, muttered something about 'naughty, warty sea beasts' and sprinkled my face with sweet, sticky Blue Nun wine.
That night the whole house was noisy. I could hear the nuns fervently praying in flat 16 and next door the kraken was roaring, banging around, cursing the nuns and delivering his own rendition of The Lord's Prayer: "Our father who art in fucking Devon, dickhead be thy name."
The rain started at midnight and got so heavy and loud that it drowned out the sounds of both holy, and unholy, praying. The wind lashed, sung tides in the trees and fiddled with the roofing slates. The house rocked and creaked. Its cloudy old windows seemed to be breathing in their rotting frames. The flimsy fire doors between the corridors whined and wheezed as they opened and closed in the intrusive drafts. The bats and the mice in the attic who were usually 'quiet as mice' scuttled and flitted about in the dusty, cobwebbed space above my head. Despite the domestic cacophony, I fell asleep and dreamed the house was a battered boat at sea, dodging the fat, thrashing, tentacled arms of octopi.
Lightning awoke me at three am and as I lay there listening, the house became strangely quiet. The wind and the rain died down and stopped. I couldn't hear the nuns or the Kraken and it felt like something had gone. I heard a low mewing and scratching on my door and when I opened it, there was Fat boy Slim with a crucifix hung glittering from his green collar. There was a soggy, tea stained note spread out on my welcome mat which said "PLEASE LOOK AFTER FATBOY CAT. LOVE AND (WET) BLESSINGS XXX THE NUNS".
The air in the hallway was cold but smelled of kippers, fury, brine and burnt things.
The carpet below the Kraken's door was singed. The gaps around the doorframe had been sealed with Gaffa tape and there were five massive padlocks securing it. I knew there was nobody inside because when I listened, all I could hear was static and emptiness and water gurgling as it drained from the bath.
I don't know where the Kraken went. I don't know what the nuns or the 'higher powers' did with him. Maybe he's knitting a whole new life for himself or stewing in a gong bath somewhere. Maybe the lightning struck him then forked up his blackened body and fed it, piece by toxic piece, to the slick sharks that cruise the murky water beneath the thunders of the upper deep. Maybe he just packed his things and left without a fuss, but I don't care, and one month later I'm still getting drunk on his absence. Fat Boy Slim's fur continues to shimmer and glow with ginger gusto. He's purring on my lap as I type and my new mermaid neighbour is singing arias as she soaks in the bathtub.
*The title comes from 'The Kraken', a poem by Tennyson.
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