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Fourth series, episode 2

All 134 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

The latest episode includes Wuthering Weather, Isha and Jocelyn, Ruby and Rohan, how to address a haggis, bogeys and boggarts, A Monologue about a Bog, Puzzled Poets and a Shaggy Dog revival.

Isha and Jocelyn

When Storm Isha slid into the valley from the Arctic, the papers advised us to walk, not like polar bears, but penguins. Their recommended method of perambulation involved feet kept unusually wide apart, with knees bent slightly and, in the absence of flippers, elbows flapping to maintain steering and balance. After a week, Isha was jostled away by Teutonic Jocelyn, who gave us snow, settled blondely on the still waters of the canal. Jocelyn was pacifying and beautiful but overstayed her welcome. Soon enough we started cursing her.

Ruby and Rohan

Before Christmas PW had told me I was in need of reshodding. With our erstwhile neighbour Heidi, co-owner of Rubyshoesday on Market Street, she'd chosen just the right pair of shiny black leather shoes for me.
I was duly despatched. At the counter I recited PW's orders to the shop assistant. Seated nearby, a woman who was convincing her husband to try on the shoes she knew were just right for him, was impressed by my commanding manner. She proclaimed: 'At last! A man who really knows what he wants!'

Since when my new shoes have taken pride of place in our Ikea shoe rack. One day soon I'll wear them.

Recently, a female assistant at Rohan, persuaded me that I might not need to spend money on nano-protective over trousers. It hardly seemed worth it. I was accompanied by PW, who had casually mentioned that these days my walks rarely exceed half a mile to the nearest town centre café and back.

Addressing the Haggis

At short notice, I got a Burns Night booking at The Retreat on Market Street. The last time I went to a Burns Night was in 1970, in snow white Renfrewshire. I was doing voluntary work in a psychiatric hospital, and walking round the wards, was charmed by the habit long time patients had of bursting into a rendering of A Man's a Man, for A' That or Ae Fond Kiss.

This time round I had more responsibility. I had to 'Address the (meat free) haggis'. So I tweaked The Selkirk Grace: "Although we canna eat the meat/ We'll still enjoy our vegan treat!" Then I knocked back a scotch, tentatively stabbed the handsome haggis substitute, and joined the company in swigging another wee dram.

Next day, watching videos of proper Scotsmen in their tartan finery, eulogising over a sacrificial beast of the field wrapped up in a sheep's belly, I recognised the wonderful drollery involved in the ritual when it's done properly.

After the excellent three course fare, embellished by visits from ebullient Chef Jim, who explained the provenance and ingredients of each course, the tables were cleared. Hostess Nicole explained the true meaning of Auld lang syne, an ancient song which Burns had adapted.

Then it was my turn to slaughter not the haggis but the ballads. I blame my winter long battle with catarrh, which coarsened my usually passable baritone into a cut price Lyndsey de Paul. Charley is My Darling, was a good choice mind, having a repeated chorus, so I didn't sing alone. And the poems I could deliver in a passable fashion, unless a Scots word tripped me up along the way. Whereas My Love is Like a Red, Red, Rose became a parody when I croaked the words, 'My luve is like a melody that's sweetly sung in tune.'

So, with a good while left for entertaining the diners, I gambled on my memory and mixed Robbie with Hippy Valley for the rest of the evening. Fancy Man Stan and my monologues were empowered by sufficient drams of scotch and enough audience laughter to put wind back in my bellows. Then a raucous Auld Lang Syne got us all up on our feet, with hosts Jim and Nicole joining us in the ring.

Fair play to Scots, and particularly Burns, who knew we should be gregarious, tipsy, nostalgic and a little teary eyed to get us through this time of year. Here's one of Robbie's rhymes:

John Anderson, my jo
John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent;
Your locks were like the raven
Your bonny brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson my Jo.

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill the gather,
And mony a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
And hand in hand we'll go;
And sleep the gather at the foot,
John Anderson, my Jo.

A Puzzle Read Around

Puzzle Poets events have been brought back to life and H gave me a lift to their pub in deepest Sowerby Bridge. H belted out her witty, bawdy and nostalgic trio of poems on dancing, ending with a memory of dancing as a child, whilst standing on her father's feet. M.C. Freda read us poems she wrote in her teens. Following the coincidence of two poets reading poems on anti-matter, I threw in one about Albert Einstein's trip to Hebden in 1904, his miracle year. Anne from Pecket Well read from a soon to be published debut collection, set in the Ireland of her youth. She's the real deal, so I pre-ordered a copy. I also dusted off a monologue, written after the 2012 mid-summer flood …

Bogeys and Boggarts

In northern England, most of the dark, damp Boggle Holes have been drained and ploughed up in the last few hundred years. With the loss of their natural habitats, many Boggarts shrank into diminutive trickster type creatures. But some Troll sized Boggarts live on in the moorlands and caves of the Danelaw counties. Such stupendous beasts can materialise, devour their victims and dematerialise again.

A Monologue about a Bog
Back when times were chivalrous,
T' authorities didn't quibble,
If boggarts most carnivorous,
Sometimes had a nibble.
A traveller strayed from t' springy heath,
Then heard demonic roars,
Soon his bones lay underneath,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors.

But when a lord wor exercising,
His favourite hunting horse,
And t' Boggart, materialising,
Ate a double course,
Nobles said in consternation,
`We'll have to write new laws,
T' Boggart's bit above his station,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors!'

When an alternative witch,
By name Morgan le Fay,
With spells for bog and ditch,
(She lived down Hebden way),
Said, `Pro biotic yoghurt,
And other natural cures,
Will pacify that Boggart
In t' blanket bog on t' moors.'

T' Boggart, all crepuscular,
At twilight left his lair,
Returning, big and muscular,
Found Morgan sat in t' chair.
`Ah know tha needs, old Butch!' quoth she.
`My supper!' He guffaws.
`No! What tha need's a woman's touch,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors!'

And then that witch contrarian,
Through spells and incantations,
Turned him vegetarian,
But don't tell his relations.
Next spell she cast for heavy sleep,
(Some say they've heard his snores)
Used t' clever spell of counting sheep,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors.

And right through next millennium,
A thousand sheers of fleece,
With pleasant dreams about his mum,
He slept through war and peace.
Till underground he heard a sound
Of revving 4 by 4s,
And his disturbance wor profound,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors.

For bulldozers wor digging gunge,
On t' orders o't new boss.
`This bog is like a massive sponge,
Let's burn off sphagnum moss!'
But after burning, loss of heat,
And t' Boggart knew what caused
Him having frozen hands and feet,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors!

And to t' new owners of our moors,
T' Government gave great wealth,
`For improving The Great Outdoors,
In t' time for The Glorious Twelfth.'
And some o't moors wor burned and drained,
But fear made t' workers pause.
As our Boggart's warren still remained,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors!

Now, what goes up must come down,
So with evaporation,
And folks down in all t' valley towns
Received an inundation!
First one flood and then another
Burst through each water course,
But t' Boggart stayed down undercover,
In t' blanket bog on t' moors …

Till, just as t' sense of grievance nagged,
Came news of a record kill:
High up on t' Boggart Hill!
Most said, `It's what t' hunters deserved.'
And t' Boggart felt no remorse,
For each hunter wor well preserved -
In t' blanket bog on t' moors!

As Inspector said, at local station –
Hunters families to sweeten –
`Except in terms of education,
None of them wor Eaten!'
And then laughter he stifled,
A credit to t' local force,
When asked where t' Boggart shoved all t' rifles –
And did he shout, `UP YOURS!?'

And don't dismiss this fantasy,
Because folklore and mystery,
Connect us to our history.
And back down t' hill,
Each Jack and Jill –
Shopkeepers with empty tills,
Homeowners with insurance bills,
And waiters who'd stopped earning –
Said, `That's our bog they're burning!'
And scientists with detailed log,
And you and I are going to dog
All those who desecrate our bog!

Shaggy Dog at Stubbing Wharf

I joined the audience at the Stubbing Wharf for the first time in months, a family birthday, a fiery bout of COVID, and Christmas having kept me away. It warmed the cockles and other parts to see the top floor packed out with tellers and listeners.

Murmuration and mimicry

I remember watching Sarah Wood's Brighton Festival film Murmurations x 10 in 2015, with its accompanying narration by Helen McDonald. Sarah recalled a Party Conference in Brighton where she'd stood on the planked pier at dusk one evening and saw the starlings coming in to roost in the ironwork beneath her feet … 'and their songs mimicked the fairground music from the sideshows above.'

Then the film widened its scope. 'In the winter of 1934, Norfolk farmers learned the skylarks in their fields were migrants from the Continent. They shot them for raiding their spring wheat. 'No protection for the Skylark' ran the headlines in the local press. 'Skylarks that sing to Nazis will get no mercy here'.

In one of Chekhov's short stories he describes a young mother walking home from a country hospital with her dead, in fact murdered, baby in her arms, as Russia awakes. He evokes the country's vastness by capturing the distinctive and multitudinous voices of the dawn chorus. Chekhov had to write within the censorship restrictions of Tsarist Russia, which makes me wonder what has happened to literature under Putin, and why the leader of the largest country in the world needs to expand its borders any further.

Starling mimicry

Readers write

Hello Bro,
Glad you've started up again on HebWeb old feller. Regarding your Yorkshire 'Dales' tale. That bit about running round on the bog in the dark – isn't it the Yorkshire Moors you're writing about?
Percy, (HM Prison, Dartmoor)

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