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Third series, episode 8

All 100 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

Murphy's Lore 3, episode 8, is also the 100th episode! George brings up his hundred with a dead cat bounce from series one, Fred, the Ronaldo of cats, a nightmare in No 10, going off the rails, a girl in a mask, adventures in ADHD, empathy in ASD, a pang for a Pang. He connects conspiracy blues and Roman witches, and the word on the street to an ancient rocker. There's also where have all the GPs gone, and a defence of Hebden Bridge at a come back fest.

100 not out

Suddenly, I find I've reached a century of episodes. At recent readings, I've been asked to retell this tale from the first series …

Dead cat bounce

Leah's poorly cat Denzil 'passed on' at the Vets - helped on his way by a lethal injection. Next day, I gathered his stiff and slightly smelly corpse from her shed and set off to give him a proper burial. He was wrapped in an old towel - which she didn't want back.

It was turning dark under the overhanging trees as I walked along Heights Road with Denzil and spade. Feeling as dodgy as a badger baiter in the headlights of the rat run commuters, I panicked and tossed the wrapped up moggy towards the intended graveyard, a wooded delph below the road, thinking to return in the morning. The towel sailed off in ghostly fashion, but Denzil landed near my feet. I nudged him forward with my foot, not wanting to pick up his rancid corpse. He stuck on a fringe of grass overhanging the abyss.

I was all ready to set off at the crack of 9 o' clock the next day when Leah rang. She'd had a call from the vets. 'Miss Murphy! Someone's brought a cat in. They say he's been run over on Heights Road … the name on his collar is Denzil!'

The Ronaldo of Cats

Fred the cat greeted me one morning by sticking his tongue out. His tongue stayed out, and his legs were a wobbly as a drunk's on a skating-rink. Later, when PW rang from the vet's, she told me that the price for correcting a cat's dislocated jaw and dentistry work was, by my quick estimation, equivalent to a mini break in a plush B&B in the Dales. I hesitated before agreeing to the op, imagining wobbly, tongue projecting Fred in the surgery, surrounded by caring medical staff and masked pet owners, with their variegated collection of pets large and small, holdings hands in a circle round PW, listening in on her call … all waiting for my answer.

"Go on then," I said.

Coincidence has a habit of chastising me. Later, in the Co-op, the guy behind me at the check-out was a vet I hadn't seen for years. I sarcastically asked if he'd been on many cruises since his retirement.

PW returned from the vets without Fred, and I have to admit I was relieved. She'd apparently overriden my decision and chosen the lethal injection option from the vet's price list. Instead, it turned out her moggy was enjoying luxury overnight post op accommodation. PW told me she was surprised I agreed to Fred's dentistry and then she read out the final bill. Turns out I'd misheard her when she rang me!

The cost of Fred's treatment could have bought us a few nights in a posh hotel in the lakes. Later, in a darkened room, I worked out that the twelve years without cat insurance on PW's twin moggies had saved us approximately the price of a romantic break in Paris - despite Fred's makeover op.

This almost stopped me from giving Fred the hard stare next time I saw him. He was strutting around on the decking, lord of all he surveyed. With his post injection bandage on one leg, he looked like the Christiano Ronaldo of cats: past his peak, but with no expense spared on sustaining his career. From his raised vantage point, he gazed out over the garden, hoping perhaps to chase down a mouse and gum it to death.

The day after her moggy's big op, I took PW on a mini break to the Dales - leaving our cat owning neighbour Nicola to tend to our pair. We'd just got to our destination when PW got a call from the vets. They'd made an unfortunate error with our bill. They'd forgotten to charge us for the original consulatation. We still owed them fifty quid.

Nightmare on Downing Street

Ozzy election guru Lynton Crosby is sitting in on cabinet meetings. So, with by-elections pending, he throws a dead cat called Rwanda on to the table. Big Dog dives on it ravenously, as Pritti Patel sharpens her claws and tabloid editors salivate under the table.

Off the rails

Last week, we happened to catch PMQs on the radio as we approached Ilkley. It felt like the shadow cabinet had told their leader to be more like the PM by cracking a few jokes. Which is strange to me, as I've always found tousle haired Bojo's Just William act a yawn. Alice Thompson in The Times has written that, if beergate doesn't sink the Labour leader, his stature will be enhanced. If it does, a more dynamic successor awaits. Thompson reckons Starmer should be her ideal leader: 'He's everything I want after Boris Johnson's antics: a decent, diligent, clever, modest, centrist dad, lovely to his wife and children. His back story, genuine interest in working class sport and enjoyment of real ale, and his charity work are all commendable.' Whilst Johnson was 'inventing stories about bendy bananas in Brussels,' Starmer became a human rights barrister. Even his "beergate" incident was based around working long hours before a by-election rather than a bring a bottle party and drunken karaoke. But Thompson thinks if Starmer does step down, it will benefit Labour more than the Tories. Unlike Johnson, Starmer has chosen strong contenders to take over.

During PMQs, supported by braying backbenchers (most of whom voted to get rid of him), Johnson criticised the impending rail strikes. He talks levelling up, but doesn't apply it to railworkers who have gone without pay rises whilst keeping the country on the rails during the pandemic. Starmer was too cautious in not making these points.

Rosie makes a mask

At darling daughter's house, Rosie showed me a mask she'd made.

Adventures in ADHD

According to neuroscientist Dean Burney in The Idiot Brain (2016), humans can only hold onto four items in our short term memory. Despite which, PW sent me out one morning with this list to remember: "Take a key, get three seabass from the fishmonger, three broccoli tips from the greengrocer - don't bother getting a cauliflower, I'll get one - two papers and a bottle of wine from One Stop."

I opened the front door to the smell of new mown grass, with the morning sun rising over Mytholmroyd. Then I set off in my sunhat, full of the joys and jaunty of stride and was halfway across the decking when I heard a frantic banging behind me. I'd locked PW in the house.

I returned with every item on PW's list, apart from broccoli tips (I think the guy on the market stall hadn't heard of such delicacies). PW had forgotten to remind me to take a bag, and with three library books to add to my load, I felt like one of those kids on Crackerjack ("Crackerjack!!!") back in the fifties, my arms full of goodies topped by a lovely big cauliflower. I waited for a commendatory remark, rather than a Crackerjack pencil, as PW opened the door.

A pang for Dr Pang

I'm reading Dr Camilla Pang's Royal Society award winning book Explaining Human. Pang has been diagnosed as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a strong dose of ADHD.

In a Guardian interview, Pang was told that some of her anecdotes are very funny. She replied, "Most of the time, I didn't know I was being funny … I was just observing things. For instance, because my ADHD means I tend to focus intensely on one thing, I was sitting in bed in my waterproof jacket in the middle of the night, writing the book. This clearly worked. But science is about learning from failure as well as success, and humour is often tied up with an observation of your own failures. It creates that humiliation that you need when you experiment, because you have to be able to take a step back and acknowledge the hilarity of what it is to be human."

Pang also challenged myths about ASD involving a lack of empathy. "I'm not giving you hugs and kisses and expressions of empathy that are weird to me. But that doesn't mean that I'm not working hard to make sure your needs are met. Empathy comes in many forms and languages, but it's also an endeavour by one human to connect with another in a way that takes up a lot of their mind. So this book is a gesture of empathy."

The good doctor recalls being sent to the shops as a child. Her mum said, "Get half a dozen tomatoes and, if they've got any eggs, get a dozen."

So, as the grocer confirmed they did have eggs, little Camilla Pang bought a dozen tomatoes.

Conspiracy blues

Polish university researchers have discovered an increased incidence of clinical depression in people who espouse conspiracy theories about COVID. Professor Umberto Volpe, Chair of the European Psychiatric Association links the extent of anti-vax theories and misinformation to the growth of social media, especially during the period of lockdowns when people were cut off from normal human contacts. As well as causing people to doubt public health messages, the study highlights 'an additional mental health risk for those more prone to false beliefs.' As the World Health Association has argued, the spread of misinformation by conspiracy theorists has also had a negative impact on public health during the epidemic, with high numbers of vaccine refuseniks in some countries.

A skilled workman has done jobs for us over the years. We've agreed to avoid politics in our discussions, but he occasionally slips misinformation from QA Non and other sources into his conversation. He's suffered from the blues in the past, but is strangely positive about his bouts of psychosis, and once told PW he enjoys receiving 'messages,' believing they come from his 'spirit guides'.

According to Simon McCarthy-Jones in Can't you hear them? (2017), 2.5 per cent of adults in western cultures hear voices on a regular basis but the same words spoken to a hearer may cause stress and disability in one culture and not in another. In Inuit culture, the ability to hear voices is called 'thinness' and is a characteristic of the valued Shaman. 'If the hearer is able to take up such a role they are kept within society's embrace rather than abandoned at its borders. This raises the question of whether meaning can be as therapeutic as medication.'

Roman witches

Old widows, sometimes lonely, sometimes demented, have been feared and abused since ancient times. Folk stories and trial records suggest a fear of witches was often based on awe as much as from mysogyny, the belief that witches had real demonic powers. Witches appear in Satyricon by the Roman writer Petronius, where he satirised such beliefs.

Trimalchio's tale*

My master's favourite died. He was a catamite, one in a million. Well, when his poor old mother was mourning him, and some of us were grieving with her, some witches started to screech like owls - you'd think it was a dog chasing down a hare.

At that time we had a man from Cappadocia, tall, brave and was he strong! He could lift a bull off the ground. This man ran outside and ran a woman through. We heard her groan, but - see how truthful I am - we didn't see the witches. Our big lug came in and threw himself on the bed. His whole body was black and blue, as if he'd been flogged. Of course, this was because the evil hand had touched him.

We shut the door and returned to the funeral. But when the woman tried to hug her son's body, she reached out and found only handfuls of straw! It had no heart, no innards, nothing. Of course, the witches had already whisked the boy away and left a straw doll. Oh! you'd better believe it too: there really are witches, there really are night riders, and what is high, they can make low. And that big lug never did recover. In fact, he died a raving lunatic a few days later!

*abridged from a translation by Branham and Kinney (1996)

The word on the street

Over a coffee in the square, a friend asked me if I'd like to have a backing band. I assured him I'd be honoured, if his jazz influenced combo would have me.

At the White Lion, I asked my son how the gathering for Rosie's uncle went the other day. He said, "I couldn't shut up!" Although later, his sister told me he'd actually confided to her that he didn't know what to say. She assured him, "It's alright, sometimes people can just be silent."

Jude was quite chatty with me. He told me about Derren Brown's theory that we all have unusual intimations going on in our heads, but most people don't pay attention to them.

Walking back through the park, I approached an unusual couple, a woman of about my age assisting a tall man half her age, who had cerebral palsy. As I passed she was saying to him, "Don't worry about me, I won't take your clothes off straight away."

Back home, I searched through some photographs and found this snap of me and The Strand playing at the Trades back in the 80s. We mainly used our own material, but I remember us doing the Ry Cooder version of It's all over now. The part I found most satisfying was when the audience came unbidden onto the floor to dance to my songs.

What's a GP?

On FaceBook I wrote …

The only time I've seen a GP in the last two years was to get my COVID jabs. There was a time when doctors made necessary home visits. Surgeries were drop in. A&E has long been under pressure, but waiting times came down in the Blair and Brown era. Until we put pressure on government to put taxes up to pay for decent health care - with enough spare capacity to cope with epidemics of flu or other epidemic outbreaks - I can't foresee an improvement.

FB friends commented:

Susie Ha: The trouble is Private Healthcare has got involved now, so we might put more money in but all that happens is they hoover it up and stick it in their offshore bank accounts.

Liz Weir: It took me three months complaining about a blocked nose before I got to speak to my GP. He told me it would be two years to see a consultant. Fortunately, I had a wee private policy, so got seen and the scan revealed a rare nasal cancer. So many others were not so lucky. It's a scandal. Once you are in the system, the service is brilliant but how many are dying waiting to be seen? £15 a month saved my life. Well … doing ok for now with immuno and radiotherapy.

Iain Glencross: Probable.

Glenda George: (who also sent me a link to the BBC undercover expose about Operose Health, 'Read this George and weep.') We are always going on about how great a role model the Scandinavian countries are but their excellent health and welfare systems are maintained by very high taxes.

Christina Longden: Our local surgery has been fantastic over here in South Crosland and Milnsbridge but my parents and their friends have had a terrible experience in Thameside, where, if you don't do digital, they don't give you an appointment. And most appointments are still phone only. The worry and stress of it all during Covid made my once easy going mum, very ill.

Local writers

Although, I'm presently engrossed by a biography of Leonardo da Vinci, Simon Armitage's Oxford lectures and Dr Camilla Pang's book about learning to be human, before popping Pang onto my my bedside table of a night, I look across at the small pile of recently read books I've enjoyed by local writers; books by poet Kunial, novelist Myers and travel writer Clare. Each book has scribbled notes stuffed inside them. Each is worthy of further attention and comment in these episodes. Also on the pile is a newly acquired, finely illustrated and annotated book on walks in the woods in West Yorkshire by Christopher Goddard. They're all on my review list.

GNUF said - for now

Wendy, who gave me a lift to Grand Northern Ukulele Festival (GNUF) in Huddersfield, used to work in a GP's surgery and told me how stressful the pandemic was for surgery staff. Many of them have quit. My ukulele mate Paul, married to a retired GP, told me lots of doctors had taken early retirement because of the pressure.

In a break from ukulele jamming in the courtyard of the Lawrence Batley Theatre, a uke guy mentioned all the cities on the tour list of the top of the bill performer, Jake Shimabukuro, "Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, London … and a random place like Hebden Bridge. Why Hebden Bridge?" I put him right by name dropping some of the famous acts who had performed there over the years, and mentioned that brilliant GNUF organiser Mary Krell also lived in this cultural hotbed.

More comments on GNUF festival experiences next time, but look out for uke virtuoso Taimane if you're going to Glasto next weekend.

If you can't make Glastonbury, Friday 24th sees the return of Shaggy Dog Storeytellers at newly refurbished Stubbing Wharf (arrive by 7.45 if you can). The relaunch of the 25 year old club is an open floor event, so you might want to take a turn as a teller. Readings aren't allowed, but you'll have a receptive audience if you've practised and polished your story - and keep it to less than 8 minutes in length.

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

If you would like to send a message about this piece or suggest ideas, email George Murphy

More Murphy's Lore

See the Murphy's Lore home page for all 100 episodes.