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Murphy's Lore

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

Murphy’s Lore 39 - Monday 23 September 2019

Tales from the towpath

The new improved towpath has been officially reopened at a cost of £2.9 million!

Sitting on the horse heads bench, I read in the papers about the couple who’ve kept their baby’s sex a secret from relatives and friends to avoid gender bias. Hobbit and Jake refer to baby Anoush with the pronoun ‘they’ and dress ‘they’ in both boys’ and girls’ clothing. The granny didn’t know the gender of ‘they’ until she changed ‘they’s’ nappy.

Nick Smith, once of Foster Clough and Shroggs, supported a school in Illingworth where the Head was a short back and sides, ex military man, who usually wore a blazer. Nick was surprised, therefore, on a routine visit, to find the Head wearing a red dress, pearl necklace, high heels and long white gloves - and what must have been falsies. He decided not to comment on this attire and the meeting went ahead as normal. It was only when Claire, the petite Secretary, entered the room dressed as a cut throat pirate that Nick remembered it was Red Nose Day.


Walking home, thinking about baby Anoush, I saw this heron at Mayroyd. I managed to stroll past and he or she (or they) was far too haughty to be bothered by my proximity.

Round here herons are becoming used to us humans. I’ve watched herons hunt, wading with a slowmo John Cleese walk, then standing motionless and fiercely focused, before spearing down on their prey. Then they take off, and in flight, herons look majestic but archaic - like downsized pterosaurs.

Naming boats

Canal Boat

I’m old fashioned about boat names, bit of a keep it plain, Marge the Barge man. There’s been a barge in these parts entitled, ‘The Mighty Quinn’, but its elaborate lettering caused two walkers to ask me why it was called ‘The Mighty Audit’, wandering if it belonged to an extremely proud accountant.

50 years ago I read The Open Society, since when I’ve believed in testing my beliefs through Karl Popper’s scientific method. In practice, this meant reading political opponents’ points of view, to remind myself that I’m definitely right and they’re wrong. Now it seems this is old hat. Apparently, science proceeds through teams of scientists changing their mindsets, perhaps when evidence reaches a critical mass, or when an Einstein comes along. Kuhn called these advances ‘paradigm shifts’. When this barge came along it seemed somehow symbolic.

On Radio 4 I heard a programme about ambivalence and the presenter thought Jeremy Corbyn’s ambivalance about Brexit was a good thing. I’m a bit ambivalent about that, but if the opinion polls shift I might too.

Dove Cottage Nursery

Dove Cottage

There’s a few days left before Dove Cottage Nursery and Garden shuts for the winter, despite them looking at their best in autumn. If you haven’t been, it’s behind Shibden Mill. Buy a plant and you’ll get sensible advice on its care (and the owners will even know its Latin name!). They’ll also sell you a cuppa and let you take it for a stroll round the glorious garden while you see which plants go well together.

So it’s a Murphy toast from me, to the Dove Cottage team - butter side up, of course.

Orgh Morfar

George with bandageThis is me in Foster Clough, late 70s, after returning from Halifax General. I’d yawned and dislocated my jaw, then driven myself to the hospital.

The receptionist asked for my details.

"Ahvvv disss larh gar tah mah yorrrr."

She looked up and saw a pallid countenance, remarkably distorted. If you are familiar with the masks in the horror movie Scream, you’ll get the idea. Nonetheless, the receptionist’s face remained stoically deadpan, although she proceeded to speak loudly and slowly, as if I was daft and deaf, as well as distorted.


"Orrrggghhh Morrrfffaaahhh."
“Orgh Morfar?”

I gestured for a pen, wrote my name down and also, ‘I’ve dislocated my jaw’.

She studied me more closely and presumably noticed that, when I spoke, my chin travelled towards my left ear, which is not my best look. Eventually, a nurse appeared and showed me to a cubicle to avoid frightening the other patients. After twenty uncomfortable minutes a young Asian doctor drew back the curtain. He inspected me closely and then tentatively felt round my face.


I nodded.

He wrapped gauze round his fingers, put them in my mouth and tried to force my wayward face back into shape, but only succeeded in lifting me off my chair.

"AAARRRGGGHHH!" I screamed and flapped at his arms.
There’s a knack to redirecting wayward jaws and this guy didn’t have it. He let go.


At least he got my name right. An achingly long time later, the snazzy Consultant, Dr Ahmed appeared, but I was dismayed to find he’d brought along a possee of gawpy students. One of whom was invited to do a diagnosis.

She didn’t consult my notes.


"Orrrggghhh Morrrphaaarrr."



Sensing my mood wasn’t conducive to a recap of my medical history, she turned in desperation towards the consultant. Snazzy snapped his fingers and the student stepped back, defeated. A nurse came forward and started wrapping Snazzy’s fingers in gauze bandaging.

He said, “Get this wrong and I might lose a few of these!” The trainees dutifully laughed.

Snazzy slowly approached my skewed but gaping orifice, felt for the right landing places for his present complement of fingers and, next moment, as if by magic, my jaw jumped back into place.

The students ventured a polite round of applause.

The hapless, perhaps embittered trainee, was left behind to wrap me in bandages, as Snazzy took his disciples on the rest of his tour. I was keen to talk to her in normal English, but she told me not to speak again for 24 hours. Then I’m sure she took it out on me with her over elaborate dressings.

Back home, PW took great delight in capturing the trainee’s handywork for posterity. I started to protest, but she put her finger to her lips and shoook her head in a rather annoying fashion.

(As it happens, H the Hatwoman, says I look rather like Vincent Van Gogh in this photo, another man who suffered for his art).

The ailing crab

I’ve been reading, The Day the Music Died by Tony Garnett.

In the 1960s, when Garnett and Ken Loach enlisted Liverpool dockers for one of their Wednesday plays, they adopted their language too, including nicknames for colleagues:

'The ailing crab' - who was constantly off work because he said one of his nippers was ill;

'The vicar' - a stevedore who shouted at workers down the hold, 'Eh men … Eh men';

Their boss was 'the sheriff': "Where's the hold up lads?" Or the surgeon, "cut that out, boys, cut it out.’

Bucket List

Bucket list

PW has pointed out that my bucket list joke (see ML 1) has just appeared in a Private Eye cartoon. Well, I suppose great minds think alike - as Boris Johnson said to Donald Trump.

LowrySketches of Lowry

We watched the Lowry film at the Picture House. The acting was convincing (although PW thought Vanessa’s accent a bit ‘insecure’) and I loved the little girl in the opening ‘chase scene’ who couldn’t help smiling sidelong to the camera, but the plot was a bit laboured and two tone for me.

One sunlit afternoon in ’96, I sat in John Killick’s garden at Slater Bank with Jonathan Timbers, Mike Haslam and others for John’s Windhorse book launch. Here’s some of his Sketches of Lowry, which he read in an avuncular east Lancs accent, capturing the spirit and distinctive vision of a delightful man.


Hey, hey, I go
on doing them, don’t I?
Do you think so?
Do you really?
Do you really like it?
Oh I am pleased,
that’s very nice.
You think I have?
Do you? You know,
I think I like it,
I think I do,
I don’t think I’ll do
any more to it,
no, I don’t think I shall.
Oh well,
that’s very nice,
I am pleased.


Look - in here!
There’s father, oh
Fifty years ago
I did poor father,
how they carried on,
they said
it was wicked!
Well I didn’t do
What I might have done
with father, but I did
what I wanted.


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