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Murphy's Lore

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

Murphy’s Lore 34 - Monday, 19 August 2019

Photo: Paul Clarke

When to let go

A few years back, Timothy West and Prunella Scales passed through Hebden on one of their Great Canal Journeys. Now Tim says the Pru he has known is slipping away from him. To pay for her care, he might have to sell their home and give away their books and many of the playscripts they worked with and annotated during their long careers.

Jill Murphy, the children’s writer and illustrator, has talked about her anguish when her mother told her, “When I forget who you are, that’s the time to put me in a home.”

I’ve known friends who have asked themselves when they should let their loved ones go. One Halifax friend had a stress induced heart attack before his family finally stepped in and put his wife, their mother, into someone else’s care, in a home that wasn’t a home.

Just imagine

If I’d met Timothy West when he sailed past our house, I might have asked him about his radio play, Is that silver gun you are holding in your right hand loaded? his satire on authors who give too much information in their scripts for radio plays.

I once attended a session on writing radio plays, led by Hebden’s Christopher Reason. He showed us how he subtly let his audiences understand what they needed to know without making it obvious he was telling them. The very first radio play, back in the 1920s, was set in a coal mine. The drama unfolded with the colliers trapped underground in pitch darkness, the writer making a virtue of a tale told in sound.

The piano tuner

A blind piano tuner came to my primary school. When he’d finished his work we were invited into the hall to hear him play part of The Moonlight Sonata. As he played I closed my eyes and imagined silvery reflections on a pond. Afterwards we applauded and he told us that the tune was written by a man who could see, but was almost totally deaf.

Walking home, I wondered whether the piano tuner saw pictures in his head whilst he was playing. I’d like to have told him that when we see it doesn’t seem like we’re looking through two small openings, our whole face is a screen.

The wave

Moira supported children with visual impairment and PW ‘shadowed’ her on a home visit to meet a girl who’d been blind since birth. She was amazed when the little lass ran into the room, darted about and jumped over the arm of a chair into her favourite seat. Afterwards, Moira told PW that some older children - blind as bats - used echolocation, clicking sounds made with their mouths to judge the distance and size of objects as they walk outside.

One day, Moira was called to a school where a pupil said she was losing her sight. When Chantelle came into the medical room her eyes gazed fixedly ahead of her and she felt her way along the walls, feeling for the light switch. 

A friend had been assigned to hold hands with Chantelle and gently lead her into the hall. After assembly, Chantelle’s class stood up to file out again and Moira turned towards the exit at the opposite end of the hall. Then, thinking better of it, she turned and gave a little wave to Chantelle, who smiled and waved back.

Playtopia please!

Rosie's dolls

This week I volunteered for a two hour stint of granddaughter entertaining, which started with Barbie and friends on the catwalk.

“Look grandad, Erica’s got matching accessories.”

After a surreal half hour, I said, “Shall we go to Playtopia?”

Playtopia in Mytholmroyd: coffee, snacks, waitress service, a chance to do the crossword - there’s even a play area for kids. It’s a £4 entry fee, but grownups get in free. So it’s a toast (butter side up) to Playtopia from me.

Tough of the track

When I was a kid, my favourite comic strip was The Tough of The Track, starring Alf Tupper, who beat his posh opponents on a diet of fish and chips, after working all week in Gasworks Street. Not far behind in my affections were Roy Race of Melchester Rovers - a sort of blond, handsomer version of Harry Kane - and Wilson of the Wizard, who ran a 3 minute mile in a fetching black leotard. I also read my sisters’ Bunty and Judy, enjoying Thelma Mayne’s ballet school and The Four Marys at their posh private school.

But are there any decent stories in comics these days? The one’s my granddaughter chooses from are basically expensive sticker books.

Murray Halberg’s underpants

Our Percy missed out on the 60s. While the rest of us were rocking at St Joseph’s Tuesday night discotheque, Percy was long distance running. And when he wasn’t running he was reading. The library was Percy’s second home. He read Murray Halberg’s autobiography and somehow got the idea that the great New Zealand runner didn’t wear underpants.

I’m sure Percy misread or misremembered those ghosted words. Perhaps it was only a jock strap the Kiwi turned his face against - if you’ll pardon that image. Murray probably wore standard issue pants like the rest of us. Misguided or not, Percy decided he’d follow his hero’s lead. He didn’t burn his Y fronts, he just left them in the drawer. Until the fateful day he represented the town team in the county trials.

Perce was 14 and proud to be handed the town kit, but dismayed when he examined the skimpy, cut away shorts. Not having any underpants in his bag (or his trousers), he told himself he’d keep his dignity by wearing the overlong vest outside his shorts, thus hiding his accoutrements.

The heats of the one mile were held late morning when, fortunately, there was only a small crowd. On each lap, as the runners came along the home straight past the little grandstand, Percy hid in the pack, occasionally reaching down to prevent his vest from riding up and revealing his assets. 

As the bell sounded for the last lap, a big rangy lad came past him, making a long kick for home. Instinctively, Percy broke away from the pack and gave chase. He was half way down the back straight when he glanced down and noticed Little Percy had burst free and was wagging away in a demented fashion. So he adopted the unusual running style of one hand clasped to the lower regions to hold his vest in place and one pumping like a piston - despite which he caught the leader and qualified for the final.

Percy prayed no one had noticed his kit malfunction, although a voice from the crowd bellowed, “Well done number 10.” Then Dasher Deadman, a geography teacher who helped out with the town’s sports team, called him over and threw him a spare pair of football shorts, cadged from a disgruntled looking triple jumper.

Dasher’s companion, an attractive honey blonde, seemed to have got something in her eyes. She kept dabbing them with a tissue and couldn’t respond when Dasher mischieviously asked her whatever was the matter.

Poor old Percy. His unintended flashing quite entertained the crowd that day, but has haunted him ever since. He hasn’t even told his present wife.


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

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