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Murphy's Lore

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

Murphy’s Lore 47 - Monday, 18 November 2019

Voter beware!

When you’re deciding who to vote for, just remember, you can always trust the Express.


Megaphone Mum

In a half timbered cafe in Halifax, a mother loudly adressed her young son.

“So, did you enjoy the film?”


“ … And what do you think the film was about?”

The rest of the customers parked their own conversations.


He glanced shyly around at the rest of us. I looked away.

“Well, how did the good guys win in the end? What did they do?”

He thought for a bit, then shrugged his shoulders.

“ … Right, first of all sit up. What did they do … to get what they wanted?”

“ … Helped each other?”

The rest of us were silent.

“Helped each other. So what do you think was the moral?”

“The moral?”

“What was the message of the film?”

“Help each other?”

“You’ve said that, you need to extend your answer.”

A light came on over his head.

“Team work?”

“And what is the motto I use at home - when you leave your toys scattered about?”

“Team work,” he repeated, quietly.


“Team Work!” he boomed, in a funny, robotic voice.

“… There’s absolutely no need for that. Now, sit up and tell me again, in a complete sen …”

I squeezed past her, winked at the kid and made for the exit.

White van man

Ken LoachSaturday night, at the Picture House, we watched Ken Loach’s film, Sorry We Missed You. It’s a about exploitative employers - who pretend they are not employers - and a family struggling to have family times together. Looking round, I guessed that 90% of the audience were middle class and intend to vote Labour in the election.

Later that night, I remembered the white van man who made a delivery around our way last year, then ‘stole’ his own van and its contents, telling the police he’d been attacked by armed bandits.

I check the latest Poll of Polls. The Tories are 16 per cent ahead.

Memento Mori

HeadPW has a birthday milestone this week. Once upon a time she said I should buy her a surprise present for her birthday. I bought her a death mask from a junk shop.

There was a brief fashion in Victorian times for making plaster moulds of dead people’s heads. Families immortalised loved ones in plaster moulds and phrenologists analysed the bumps and lumps on the heads of executed criminals.

I don't know if Present Wife approved of her birthday present, but since then she’s made a point of telling me what to buy for her surprise presents.

Eli Tolaretxipi

Recently, a Basque poet came to Pencilvania at The Fox and Goose. She enjoyed our light, barbed, sometimes bombastic verse. Then she read her own poems; first in Spanish and then in English.

(‘’Petirrojo de cuerpo diminuto …)

A robin with a tiny body, with only one eye open
The cat brings it as far as the bathroom.
I see it laid out like a spoil. Dead, and beautiful.
The poet would explain the poem as an artefact made from the leftovers, pieces, undigested chunks which protrude in vomit. With the pieces that the stomach
has not dissolved, which the acids have not corroded, nor the liquids broken down,
I make the poem. In this way the text is solid and the poem is
what is swallowed without being chewed.
That which tightens the stomach.
If I believed in these things, I would believe that with her offering the cat
was reminding me that I am mortal.
Did she kill it? Did it die of cold? Did it suffer at the end?
December, this month so strange.
There are years when it rains a lot and down the river the water sounds like the galloping of horses.
Not tonight. This December smells of blood and fallen leaves,
and that is what the metal blade of the moon sounds like, guiding
the passer-by towards the cold house, where the cat takes off her coat,
kisses her on the forehead, gives her something to eat.*

Mountain wild

At the walkers' shop, I explain I’ve discovered, quite late in life, that my right foot is slightly larger than my left. Which might explain why, when left to my own devices, I tend to go round in circles. The shop manager suggests I should find a boot that fits my right foot and the left one can look after itself.

She lends me some walking socks, lets me try on several pairs of boots and insists on me perambulating round the shop each time. Perhaps she’s calculated that if I made a run for it, in my brand new pair of boots, she could easily take me out below the knees before I got past Squeeze. But no, I gradually realise she is determined to get just the right boots for my very particular feet.

We spend so much time on our joint quest that by the end of my visit we’ve swapped abridged versions of our life stories. Finally, I choose the best boots for my poor, long suffering plates of meat.

One dry day, happen in January, I’ll get my boots out of their box, get a bus up to t’ tops, grab a pint at a hostelry - then, snugly shod - saunter back down hill. In the meantime, here’s a Murphy toast to Mountain Wild on Crown Street, butter side up, of course.

The Limping Lady

Limping LadyI’ve been reading about Virginia Hall, the spy with the wooden leg, and wondering if she saved money on walking boots? The Nazis called ‘The Limping Lady’, the most dangerous spy of all.

SOE spies kept their secret histories to themselves after the war, but now it’s been revealed that Virginia called her wooden leg Cuthbert. When her cover was blown and she fled across the Pyrenees, she radioed London to say she was ok, but Cuthbert was “in a bad way”.

Her controller radioed back, “Eliminate Cuthbert.”

Neat petite feet

Present Wife was never unduly impressed by my ability to pick up coins with my toes - although other girls thought it quite charming. On our dates, she let me stay over as long as I promised to keep my socks on. When I told her that people on St Kilda had toes as long as fingers she looked apalled.

PW is rather proud of her ‘neat, petite feet’, although to me they look as if they were bound tightly by an oriental torturer during her formative years (the story of dinky footed Cinderella originated in China).

A few years back, little Alfie down our street paid us a visit and PW told him his wellies were on the wrong feet.

He said, “No they’re not. They’re my feet!”

And finally …

I turn on News at 10 and there’s my old mate Rod Dimbleby, of Shaggy Dog fame, explaining Yorkshire dialect terms. Which reminds me, Rod’s on with Eddie Lawlor, the singing storyteller, at Stubbing Wharf at the end of the month in Two Tykes on t’ loose.

There’s also a woman in the news item, who says, in Dewsbury, snickets and ginnels were called ‘Back Passages’. She recalls shouting, “Hey you! Get out of my back passage.”


* The poem is from Still life with hoops, (2008) by Eli Tolaretxipi, translated by Philip Jenkins and published by Arc Publications, Nanholme Mill, Todmorden.

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