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Third series, episode 4

All 96 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In episode 4, why has HB gone GBS?, there's sunsets over Hebden Bridge, minding your language, learning to lie, phoney propaganda, dinner with Trimalchio, Sonia Boyce, a Lake District jaunt and a delicate operation.

I've looked at clouds

This year, whilst England had its sunniest January on record, the Pennines shivered under a blanket of cloud. In early April, the weather was more mercurial - sunshine was followed by snow.

This past fortnight, occcasional scarlet sunsets have kept their promise to shepherds and daytrippers alike, although one evening the sky was a sheet of rumpled silk, portending rain. One dusk the sky was illuminated like a panorama from a children's book: a cyan lake dotted with white edged Carib islands sunshot with yellows and reds. From the west, a silent tsunami of magenta coloured cumuli rose from the horizon.

In love with the ephemeral glories of sunsets, at Grove bookshop in Ilkley I bought a book on clouds. So in future I will be able to use the scientific terms for the above.

Hairy Hebden

When was it announced that men in Hebden Bridge should look like George Bernard Shaw?

Some bearded guys are even wearing extensions, including guys I like. Are there style magazines out there that I don't know about, or do such fashions happen by mass mania? In rebellious response I have trimmed my own modestly proportioned beard. I shaved to avoid being shavian.

Mind your language

At Innovation, I was pontificating about popular music and said to my musician friend John, "The Stones' greatest hits were founded on guitar riffs by Keith Joseph."

I imagine such verbal slips happen to us all. Watching the Olympic 10,000 metres one time, PW asked if Mo Mowlam was running.

Language lapses don't have to involve people's names, of course. Back in my school days, Mr Fishwick, Head of English, was warning the Upper 6th about the dangers of summoning up the dead through the use of ouija boards, when I casually remarked, "To be honest, I don't believe in necrophilia."

Mr Fishwick was a good man and tried to persuade me to stay on after my one year in the grammar school - most of which I bunked off. He got me to read A Clockwork Orange, Nothing like the Sun and Catch 22, none of which were on the syllabus.

How we learn to lie

In The Sunday Times, Matthew Syed has been dismayed by the way in which 'the innate deceitfulness of the prime minister has spread to the rest of the cabinet.'

Lying in this government has become accepted practice. The Allegra Stratton video showed a senior aide being coached to lie on behalf of her boss. MRI scans have shown that the more we lie the less we worry about it. A study at UCL gave people the opportunity to lie for financial gain. At first the human guinea pigs' hearts raced when they told a small fib to win an award - they blushed and gave other clues to their discomfiture. Later, as their lies became more outrageous, any feelings of unease disappeared. It seems our brains can only cope with a small degree of guilt

Propaganda all is phoney

Mark Twain said, "Fooling people is easy, persuading them they've been fooled is much harder."

Putin has a nostalgic view of history and has set out to restore the great Russian empire. Through propaganda he has tried to transfer his own brutality on to mythical Ukrainian Nazis to justify his invasion.

The effect of these lies is evidenced in the recordings of telephone calls between young Russian soldiers and their families. Such as the intercepted mobile phone call where a Crimean wife was heard laughing as she told her husband he can rape women as long as he "uses protection" and he doesn't tell her about it when he gets home.

A young soldier rang his mother in Russia to say he was feeling depressed about the war. She told him "Don't be down son." He said, "But what if I have to kill women and children?" She chided him, "You aren't killing children, you are killing fascists."

Putin has demanded that fellow Russians use the term 'special military mission' to describe what the West calls a war. PW maintains it's neither a war nor a special mission: it's an invasion and occupation. She says it's not a war because Ukrainians are not attacking Russia.

Dinner with Trimalchio

I'm reading a translation of The Satyricon, by Petronius.

'We were drinking the wine and thoroughly enjoying all the luxuries of the feast when a slave brought in a silver skeleton so loosely jointed that its limbs skewed in every direction. He promptly threw it down on the table several times. Each time its floppy limbs fell in a different pattern.'

Trimalchio (the host) responded in verse:

"Alas poor us, we all add up to squat;

Once Hades gets his hooks in, that's the lot;

So live while it's your turn, 'cause then it's not."

Manchester Art Gallery, part 3

For the last of these comments on this gallery (btw, the cafe is fine but can't compete with the tiled marvel in Leeds) a reflection back to 2018, when I joined the chorus of critical voices after Sonia Boyce OBE, guest curator at Manchester Gallery, chose to remove J W Waterhouses's painting Hylas and the nymphs from the walls of the gallery.

I had fond memories of first seeing a poster of that particular painting on a girlfriend's wall back in my student days and later it inspired a couple of my monologues. Perhaps I stupidly imagined the painting's removal was down to prudery, but my friend Beth wrote to say the temporary curator had sparked a worthwhile debate.

Sonia Boyce has explained that her motivation in removing the Waterhouse was actually based on discussions with those who worked in the gallery. Female staff had been harassed by male visitors and they told her "a lot of that seemed to happen around this painting." She wanted to initiate a discussion about who got to choose what should go up on gallery walls.

Now Boyce has become the first black female artist to be chosen for the Venice Biennale. In The Observer she recalled a meeting in Toxteth with a Liverpool charity called The Black Sisters. She asked them if they could name a black British female singer they loved. It took the group about ten minutes of umming and ahhing and then silence, till one of them said, "Shirley Bassey" at which point they all got up and sang Big Spender. At the end of the course they came up with 46 names, "from Joan Armatrading to Poly Styrene, to Pepsi of Pepsi and Shirlie and Cleo Laine." The list has since grown to 350 names, and for her Venice exhibition her trademark wallpaper is devoted to performers and their stories. Her work also includes videos of 5 black singers improvising with their voices.

Coming and going

As carers we don't get extended breaks, so it was good to drive to the Lakes on Easter Monday just as long tailbacks of slow moving traffic were leaving. A guy in a clothes shop told me he'd heard of Hebden Bridge. "It's a rocking place," I said, "Yes. We've come to get away from the tourists."

On Tuesday we stopped in a little square in a village, for a coffee, a read, a crossword and a scone, alongside a handful of politely muted couples, when a foursome crashed into the idyll with a small child called Jonty. They talked about a second home they were doing up in the Med, and told Jonty about how he must share his cake with Aunty Pippa. Then daddy initiated a game of hide and seek with Jonty to placate him for sharing his cake.

"Oh, where has Jonty gone? Can you see him mummy?"

"Jonty, we don't hurt flowers do we?"

"I'm not, mummy."

"Well it looks as if you are, Jonty darling, because you've pulled it out of its pot."

"Jonty, put the rock down, Jonty. You're not looking kind with that rock in your hand Jonty, are you?"

Well small children need to be entertained and if necessary chastised, but it was mummy and daddy's lack of volume control that grated. The rest of us in the little square, trying to chill out over a coffee, were apparently invisible to them.

Male resilience

Lots of operations were cancelled during lockdown, but I haven't seen reports on vasectomies. In the late 80s, when I got done, there was a fair amount of publicity about the snip. Michael Parkinson was an advocate and Barry Collins (now a Calderdale councillor) had a play on the telly in which a young father had to be assured that he wouldn't "end up singing soprano." PW went with two friends to watch Alan Bleasdale's Having a ball, at The Yorkshire Playhouse, despite the warnings of male nudity.

My own op was one afternoon at Halifax Infirmary in 1989. PW complained she'd cancelled a work appointment to go with me. Back then, partners and wives had to sign that they agreed with the procedure. I was put under for a couple of hours and was certainly glad that I didn't have to drive myself home afterwards. Sleep that night was spasmodic to say the least; try not turning onto your side of a night to avoid your diabolicles slunking over on to a line of stitches. When I groaned involuntarily, I heard a faint titter from across the mattress before PW returned to her slumbers.

The following monologue was inspired by a true story shared by my friend Dave in Shropshire about two of his mates, and the final part is based on a source I can absolutely vouch for.


A Delicate Operation

Pre Op

A thought came to Vera in t' market -
Wi' two Kiwi fruit held in her grip -
As a grocer wor weighing a pound of ripe plums …
"Eee, it's high time our Arnold had t' snip!"

So she phoned her sister in law, Rita -
Who'd been popping out kids like for fun -
Sayin', "Why not put your Ted down for t' snip;
Then we'll get both of them done?"

At t' Infirmary t' lads signed they wor of a sound mind,
Though t' shaving bit worra rum do.
This chap holding Ted's Little Ted in his hand,
He'd just met in a Job Seekers' queue.

Arnold had a sweet dream in t' theatre -
He'd not eaten, so this wor t' dream's plot:
He wor sharing jam roly poly with Angelina Jolie,
In t' Mediterranean Sea on her yacht …

Post op

Now their wives had said it wor only a snip,
It couldn't compare to birth pains.
But wi' chafing around their testicular bits,
They walked like a pair of John Waynes.

Ted had acquired an old sports car,
A right pile of junk no mistake.
He said, "Arnold, we can still spread us legs out -
Put your foot over here onto t' brake."

Then, to minimise scrotal agitation,
They got their seats almost flat down.
An' it's still maintained on some websites
As a driverless car drove through town.


Collecting samples …
Vera danced round wi' no blouse
To arouse Arnold, who said "Steady on, Vera.
Stop waving t' bottle around like that …
An' bring it a damn sight nearer!"

When he took his bottle to t' Infirmary,
He wasn't quite sure where to leave it,
Till he saw two lasses in uniforms,
An' thought happen they'd like to receive it.

T' tall lass held his sample up to t' light,
An' asked her mate, with a professional demeanour,
"Were you expecting semen from a Mr Binns?"
"Not really - I'm only a cleaner."

Then Arnold heard laughter behind him -
A packed waiting room filled with delight.
An old lady said, 'You're t' second this morning, love.
Sperm's down t' corridor - third door on t' right!'

Spring is sprung

Despite the cold winds from the East, spring has hesitantly blossomed, the bluebells are out in Hardcastle Crags and in Hebden Bridge life is edging back to normal, with packed pubs and clubs at weekends. Two words of warning: people are still catching Covid, and it has a powerful impact on some; also, a local woman had her drink spiked this weekend, so look out for each other and mind how you go.


Sonia Boyce has won the highest Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale for her work Feeling her way, which combined, video, collage, music and sculpture.

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