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Murphy's Lore

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

Murphy’s Lore 41 - Monday 7 October 2019

Alfresco autumn

Autumn, according to John Keats, is a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. According to Present Wife it’s the season for Ikea. Just as sensible people move indoors, PW starts buying garden furniture. She knows my aversion to the Swedish retailer - except for their food. She mockingly describes my visits to Ikea as, “Right, where’s the meatballs?” So she takes Darling Daughter in my place.

The Ikea scam, of course, is to get the customers to make their own furniture. If it falls apart, they have only themselves to blame. Despite having misspent many exasperating, immasculating years, from my Meccano childhood, through the dark years of MFI onwards, this autumn I suffered a terrible relapse and wasted one whole morning, albeit with hands on support from PW, trying to produce a proud erection: our new, must have, Ikea Patio Table.

In keeping with the times - and WB Yeats - things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, the resulting, malformed table stood mockingly before me. I tell PW she’ll have to send it back. Then, to assuage my pain, I go out on a drive.

Whilst I’m gone, PW invites the sisterhood in the street to lend a hand. With no thought for my masculine pride, Nicola and Debbie (“I love challenges like this!”) can even make sense of the cryptic, wordless, Ikea instruction booklet.

I drove back to discover a perfectly constructed Ikea Patio Table … just in time for a good pour down.

Ikea table

Pink Elephants

The poet Glenda George has written to remind me that, for a short period in the 1970s, there were pink elephants on the skyline above Heights Road, just above Foster Clough delph. This caused a sensation on the hillside opposite. It was generally agreed that hippies at Foster Clough had something to do with their appearance.

Heights Road

Driving along the spectacular road towards Mount Skip one misty morning, I thought of Elmet by Ted Hughes and those black and white photos by Fay Godwin.

This is from What’s the first thing you think of?

… ‘The Heights Road. My brother launching a glider
Below where an aeroplane crashed above the golf-links
(Before the war, before the RAF).
And the first hawk I ever saw and knew
Flew past with a small bird in its claw.
Another small bird bounced after it, crying,
Towed through the air on an invisible string.’

Happy Valley

Hughes’s Uncle Walter was shot at Gallipoli. He was one of only 16 survivors from a battalion of a thousand men. At Cambridge, Ted often wore the long leather coat Walter had worn in the Great War.

From Walt

Halfway up the field the bullet
Hit him in the groin. He rolled
Into a shell-hole. The sun rose and burned.
A sniper clipped his forehead. He wormed
Deeper down. Bullet after bullet
Dug at the crater rim, searching for him.
Another clipped him. Then the sniper stopped.

All that day he lay. He went walks
Along Heights Road, from Peckett to Midgley,
Down to Mytholmroyd (past Ewood
Of his ancestors, past the high perched factory
Of his future life). Up the canal bank,
Up Redacre, along and down into Hebden,
Then up to Crimsworth Dene, to their old campground
In the happy valley,
And up over Shackleton Hill, to Widdop,
Back past Greenwood Lea, above Hardcastles,
To Heptonstall - all day

He walked about that valley, as he lay
Under High Wood in the shell-hole.

A Piece Hall evening

I got an invitation to an Open Mic at the Book Corner in the Piece Hall from one of the organisers and didn’t realise it was an all ticket affair (£12 to watch John Hegley) with the Open Mic to follow. As it happens, the tickets had sold out.

I didn’t mind, really, I was just delighted to see how lively the Piece Hall was on a Saturday evening; the whole place lit up, with people thronging cafes, restaurants, bars - and bookshops.

Piece Hall

When we came to Halifax in 1974 I was in awe of the Georgian masterpiece in its centre, but locals said it was going to be knocked down to make way for an Arndale. Fortunately, Halifax has always been behind the times. By the time the council got round to voting on Piece Hall or Arn and Dale the tide had changed. The old building was saved by a single vote.

There have been at least three Piece Hall makeovers since we moved here. Perhaps this time its integration into a museum, library, theatre, Arts (plus cafes and boozers) Quarter will triumph. When I went, it was buzzing.

I just hope I don’t put a Murphy’s Law curse on it by awarding it my Murphy’s Toast - butter side up, of course.

The 1783 Bread Riot

From the cafe in Square Chapel, you can see the place on Beacon Hill where Thomas Spencer and Mark Saltonstall were hanged.

Halifax traders were forcing up the price of bread by storing it in their warehouses. Thomas Spencer, David Hartley’s brother in law, had been a leading member of the Coiners and the half starved people looked to him for leadership. Saltonstall was 19, recently and honourably discharged from the army because of the diminution of his regiment. The pair led people along the narrow roads from Hebden to Halifax.

Most of the stockpiled oats and wheat were stored in warehouses behind The Boar’s Head. When the landlord refused to open the warehouse doors or sell the corn, Spencer headed his followers to parts of the town where carriages loaded with grain were returning. A large quantity was seized and sold to the starving multitude at the previous market price and the money was passed to the drovers to hand on to the merchants.

When Spencer and Saltonstall were subsequently arrested and hanged on Beacon Hill for their part in the riot, a historian reported, ‘The hill side … was white with the upturned faces of the thousands who had flocked from the valleys in which were left none but childhood and extreme old age’.

That afternoon a mass thronged the narrow road that led from Halifax to Mytholmroyd. There were moans and lamentations when Spencer was carried across the bridge to his home in Hall Gate, where the coffin was opened. A small window close to the body exposed it to view. In the 19th century, a local journalist interviewed a Mrs Walton who remembered that Spencer’s face was hideous and deformed and that his neck was ‘swollen to a level with his chin’.

The cart carrying the teenage soldier’s coffin travelled on via The Hole in the Wall, up the buttress to Heptonstall, with people seated on the slopes and crowding the narrow lane. Many had followed the coffin from the valleys and as the cortege neared the church there were loud murmurings and lamentations ‘that were carried afar by the winds that rarely cease in these northern heights’.

A description of the Bread Riot can be found in Ling Roth’s The Yorkshire Coiners, where the tone is generally condemnatory. You might turn to The Making of the English Working Classes by E.P. Thompson, for a more balanced consideration. It’s clear that the starving population in the upper valley regarded the two men as heroes. Who knows how many lives they saved by sacrificing their own?

I blame Dickie Davies

This week I’ve been watching the athletics from Doha.

Running50 years ago, I was tipped to win the Northern Junior 3000 metres final at Blackburn. It was windy and I worked out my tactics: break away with the breeze at my back with 500 to go and run the last lap from the front.

Then I noticed the cameras on the infield. I trotted across and, over the cameraman’s shoulder, noticed Dickie Davies in the viewfinder. I was going to be on World of Sport!

I felt so easy during the first few laps and impatient to get on the TV, I threw out my careful tactics, made my kick on the 4th lap and got a good lead. Fame and glory had gone to my head.

I didn’t feel myself slowing or hear the footsteps behind me on the gleaming new, plastic track. Herbert Wagstaff of Wakefield overtook me with two laps to go. He got a tantalising ten metres ahead and stayed there. Derek Ibbotson, one time world record holder, was on the infield urging him to hang on. I was so annoyed with myself that I jogged down the finishing straight, content to stay ahead of a fast closing guy from Lincoln. I stopped at the wrong line - and he didn’t. So I finished 3rd in a race I should have won, because of Dickie Davies!

Just to add to my woes, when I walked past the ITV cameras I found out they’d been transmitting Showjumping from Hickstead during my race.

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