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Murphy's Lore

Number Thirty-three of the regular HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.

Murphy’s Lore 33 - Monday, 12 August 2019

Things that go bump

This week, I dreamt a fascist enclave had been set up somewhere in England and - as is often the way in dreams - no sooner did I hear this rumour, than I found myself walking towards an impromptu border and border guards. As it happens, the border was across Malvern Avenue, in Ellesmere Port, the next street to where I grew up …

The guards are a motley crew, dressed in ordinary day clothes, sitting on chairs they’ve brought from home and spaced out across the road. They don’t look at all bothered as I advance towards them, my little band of supporters behind me. Perhaps this is because of an electrically charged ribbon of light that’s stretched across the road at about belly button height.

I fix my eyes on the placid, expressionless guard at the centre of the group and head towards him, forgetting about that scintillating, electrified ribbon. I’m suddenly flipped up and tossed over in mid air and wake up when I bang the back of my head on the bedside cabinet. This solid clunk also wakes PW, who, thinking freight trains have just coupled at the railway station, rolls over and goes back to sleep.

A day or two later, on Facebook - not mentioning the fascist enclave bit - I ‘fess up that I’ve recently fallen out of bed. Judith Malone of Todmorden responded, “Must be the week for it. Campbell fell out of bed and banged his mouth on the bedside cabinet. I slept through it all.”

Fay Robinson of Mytholmroyd wrote, “I know someone else who fell out of bed this week. How very strange. It must be a sign …”

Yes, but what does it signify? … if Campbell Malone and anyone else (Steven Spielberg, keep tabs on this) has fallen out of bed this week, especially whilst dreaming about a breakaway fascist enclave on the Wirral, contact me through the usual channels.

Bacon at the barber’s

The chap in the chair at John the Barber’s had a theory about the aura of light in El Greco, Picasso and Francis Bacon paintings. He reckons this luminescence is a way of transmitting the vitality of living things. We enjoy his fascination with his theories and, after he pays, it takes him three attempts to leave, popping back twice to expand on his insights. His special interest is Bacon, but he says most people just want to talk about Bacon carrying on in Soho.

When he’s left, John and I talk about Bacon carrying on in Soho. Then we somehow get on about a restaurant in Ripponden, once owned by two Man City footballers. At which point, I draw on my specialist knowledge and tell John that Colin Bell turned down the chance to have a stand at Maine Road named ‘The Bell End’ in his honour. Kicking the conversation round a bit more, we arrive at Joe Orton and reflect on celebs who’ve been locked up (Stephen Fry) or let off with a warning (Richard Branson).

John the Barber: conversation with a haircut thrown in, good value for £3.50.

Tear Jerker

I keep a few tissues handy to watch Long Lost Families, although the stories always have happy endings. The camera lets you be there at the climactic moment when the birth mother, who has been desperately trying to trace the long lost child she had to give up for adoption 40 years ago, and the long lost son or daughter, who has been desperately trying to find their birth mother, finally get to meet again, hug and cry buckets.

I have friends in the valley, H the hatmaker and Alan, the historian, who were adopted and have tried to make contact with their birth mothers. Unfortunately, their birth mothers didn’t want to meet them. I don’t know how this has affected them both over the years, but H and Alan seem to me what Maslow called, ‘Self Actualisers’, happily achieving and doing their own thing.

Discovering relativity in Morrisons

Sometime, 10 or 15 years ago, my scatty, smiley sister Kath was queuing at the check out at Morrisons and Aunty Alice and Uncle Tom, who were just in front of her, were busy chatting to the lass on the till. When it was Kath’s turn, the cashier said, “Sorry to keep you, that was my uncle and aunty.”

“No they’re not! They’re my uncle and aunty.”

“Oh, I see … Well, the thing is … I’m Eric’s daughter … and Eric was the Mason who was given away.”

“What? We were never told about an Eric… Hang on a minute … then we must be …”

Before social services, families made their own arrangements. George and Violet Mason, my grandparents, had a large family, but they both died in middle age.* Perhaps that’s why little Eric was given away.

Dead spit

My widowed mother in law, Margaret, befriended a recovering alcoholic called Joe. After some time, rehab Joe got a flat nearby. One night he babysat for a neighbour and helped himself to a bottle of the neighbour’s whisky. He also made off with a pair of shoes I'd left at Margaret’s.

We were in County Durham soon afterwards and called to see Joe, to retrieve my shoes. Joe cowered back, thinking I was about to attack him. Although Margaret had forewarned us, we were shocked when he lowered his hands from his face and there stood my dad. Well, not my dad, but my dad’s double. They could have been identical twins. Except Joe’s accent was Lancastrian, not Scouse like my dad’s.

It turned out that Joe’s surname was Murphy.

Muse music and love cafe

Muse Music

In the cafe I sit down next to a display of books and, by coincidence, there’s Beyond Coincidence, by Plimmer and King, with chapters on doppelgangers, premonitions, serendipity and the like.

Most of the book consists of people relating coincidences. In response, Ian Stewart, the TV mathematician, argues that coincidences are governed by mathematical laws. Once every 19 years, for instance, the odds are you will dream about something that hasn’t happened and soon afterwards it will happen. Hopefully, this won’t include a breakaway fascist state on the Wirral.

While I’m reading, the excellent cook provides me with a toasted tea cake with the butter melted in (I have simple tastes) and a proper cappuccino that’s not too frothy. The background music (the DJ is Mein Host), is enjoyably eclectic and doesn’t make my ears bleed. I riffle through the CD racks and buy an obscure Bob Dylan and a compilation Billy Haliday. £3 each.

So this week, I award a toast (butter side up, of course) to Muse Music and Love Cafe!

Uncle Herbert’s Machine

Meanwhile, back across the road at The Bookcase, the first batch having sold like toasted tea cakes, there’s a rumour they’ve sent for another consignment of ‘Hippy Valley: a secret history ‘…

“This pub,” said our local landlady,
“Once accommodated Franz Josef Liszt.”
I said, “What about Brahms,
Did he succumb to its charms?”
When an old chap behind me said, “Pssst …

Never mind talk of fancy composers,
Nor off-cumdens of mighty renown,
While tha drinks that sherbet,
I’ll tell of a Herbert,
As wor born an’ brought up in this town.

There have been some amazing inventions,
But t’ greatest invention I’ve seen,
Wor in 1905,
I wor first one to drive,
Uncle Herbert’s time travel machine.

T’ contraption wor not much to look at:
Two seats an’ some levers an’ gears.
An’ a set of dials,
Not for counting miles,
But to show distance travelled in years.

Uncle said, ‘Will tha be my co-pilot?’
An’ he helped me to set target date.
So we gave t’ dials a tweak -
Months, years an’ weeks -
An’ they stopped at 1968.

Now mother wor most disconcerted.
She said, ‘Don’t fetch him back late for his tea.’
But Uncle just laughed,
He said, ‘Don’t talk so daft.
Think on Einstein’s relativity!’ …

If you want to know what the Hebden Time Travellers discovered in 1968 and 2019, rush to The Book Case, before they run out of copies - or The Book Corner in the Piece Hall.

Readers write

*My grandparents died from general paresis of the insane, brought on by syphillis. This was probably contracted by George Mason as a teenage soldier in WW1. My long lost, but now found cousin, Jean Smith, has written from Liverpool, to tip me off about an episode of Who do you think you are? where Jack Whitehall and his father discover ancestors who died from the same affliction.

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