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Murphy's Lore

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

Murphy’s Lore 52 - Monday, 23 December 2019


We are diminished by Exit Polls. We think we have free will, yet when pollsters ask thousands where they put their cross, they discover what millions did too.

Friday 13th

Hebden was a town in mourning. I was turning into the White Swan for a consolatory half, when there was my esteemed Editor - suffering from exitpollitis - and Rosie his daughter, who had escaped the drought and the fires down under for darkness at noon and the heavens weeping.

Climate change hardly featured in our election, although the PM deigned to send his dad along for the TV debate. In Australia, global warming was at the centre of the recent campaign. The deniers won there too.

When did you find out?

In a ward of the Cottage Hospital, a dozen of us were waiting for our tonsillectomies.

A nurse said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get ice cream afterwards!”

A mum arrived with a young, frightened looking kid.

One of the older lads said, “See him, he still believes in Father Christmas!”

I laughed along with the others, but it wasn’t only my tonsils I lost that day. A sense of wonder went out of the world. I realised that the guy who brought the presents, filled up the stockings, ate the mince pies and drank the whisky, was my dad.

Christmas at Hippy Terrace

We were having a Christmas Eve drink with neighbours. PW was drowning her sorrows and talking about her dad, who died that year.

“I’m an atheist, I know I won’t see him again.” 

Mike Haslam said, “Can’t you soften your atheism to agnosticism?”

Nick Smith was walking in with a drink and a top up for Kath. He said, “People live on in other people’s memories.”

Next morning, Darling Daughter woke up early in her attic bedroom and wailed, “Father Christmas hasn't been!” So mummy went up to see her. Turns out, FC had forgotten to hang the stockings from the end of her bed.

“Silly Father Christmas” mummy shouted downstairs. “I bet he's hung them from the mantelpiece!"

I grabbed a few socks and rushed downstairs to fill them with fruit and nuts and chocolates.

That year I made the Christmas dinner, while mummy - who was feeling rather delicate - shouted instructions and womanfully played with DD in the lovely, wooden Wendy House the bearded one had remembered to drop off on his travels

A dash of Dahl

Where art thou, Mother Christmas
I only wish I knew
Why father should get all the praise
And no one mentions you.

I’ll bet you buy the presents
And wrap them large and small
While all the time that rotten swine
Pretends he’s done it all.

So hail to Mother Christmas
Who shoulders all the work!
And down with Father Christmas,
That unmitigated jerk!

Roald Dahl (1988) written for use as a Christmas card, for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Charity,

A sister writes

Thanks for the Christmas card big brother. I knew it was from you because you forgot to write inside!

Chris x

Butter up awards

This overturning of Murphy’s Law, has often celebrated shops, cafes, societies and people. This week it seems appropriate to recognise Pickering and Partners, the solicitors who have played a crucial role in obtaining compensation for workers and their families at Acre Mill and elsewhere. The partnership now run a charity based at Dean Clough. Here’s one recent example of their casework:

Abridged from the Pickering and Partners webpage …

“Allan Harris was diagnosed with an asbestos related cancer in November 2017. Allan moved with his mother and brother to Old Town in1948 when Allan was just a little boy. The family were invited to Old Town by Allan’s maternal aunt, Ella, who worked for Cape as a spinner. His playground was a short distance from the factory’s main drive where lorries laden with asbestos materials and waste drove by. Asbestos fibres floated about in the air, clinging to the wire netting surrounding the playground like strands, collecting in heaps on the ground where unsuspecting school children made snowballs to throw at each other playfully …

"… the unusual feature in Allan’s case was that he visited Acre Mill between the ages of 10 and 12 on a regular basis to pass messages to his relatives. Allan’s aunt, Ella, worked for Cape as a spinner. Allan would have been exposed to substantial amounts of asbestos dust produced by the manufacturing process. "

Allan’s case was settled without having to go to court because his solicitor, Fozia, had years previously acted in a very similar case against Cape and succeeded. Tragically, that case was for a former Old Town Primary class mate of Allan’s.

Acre Mill

On HebWeb, Chris Ratcliffe and Frances Robinson have maintained an extensive archive of films, witness statements and case history relating to the Acre Mill disaster.

Mildred Dredge

EngelbertKath's mum loved Engelbert Humperdinck. One New Year's Eve, Engelbert was on the telly and I asked her if she knew that he'd changed sex and was previously known as Mildred Dredge.

“Eee, our George, he never was, you’re having me on.”

Her son said, “It’s a well known fact mother. Engelbert was born a lass!”
New Year's Eve, one year later, Margaret stayed at her sheltered accommodation, but had other residents round. Engelbert was on the box again.

At our house, we were half way through Auld Lang Syne when the phone rang.

Judith, Margaret’s daughter in law, picked it up. It was Margaret.

“Judith! Will you tell this lot that Engelbert Humperdinck used to be a woman!”

2020 vision

Nostradamus said … “In the year of 2020, the works upon the thoroughfare known as Burnley Road will be completed.

Murphy’s Lore, will be published by the esteemed printing house known as Pennine Press. Its many devotees will be invited to a book launch where red wine will be consumed.

In the summer, due to popular demand, Murphy’s Lore 2  will recommence on HebWeb, to the great delight and satisfaction of the local populace. 

The Prime Minister will be imprisoned for the misuse of public money, thanks to the testimony of Ms Jennifer Arcuri. Dancing in the streets of Hebden Bridge will follow…”

A Canadian Reader writes

(In response to Deux Cheveaux in the snow, ML 51)

Dear George

I had a 2CV, and, yes, the accelerator fell off. I bought the car because it was promoted as being basic and foolproof. It was by far the worst car Ive ever seen.

David, ex Hebden Bridge, actually Colden, and Canadian for the last 30 years.


Dear Dave,

Hello there in Canada! Believe me I share your pain - in the 80s I drove round in a Skoda and got my feet wet every time it rained.

A long lost friend writes

Hi George,

Just been reading your Lore. Really enjoy them. I haven’t read all of them yet, but I wondered if you remembered the time when you wore two ties at the same time? We met in the Alma after you’d been to a parents’ evening. I realised you were wearing two ties. Knowing that you were a bit of a dandy I assumed this was all the rage. Turns out it wasn’t a new fashion, it was a result of you rushing home and back to school again and not checking how many ties you were wearing.
Clint Gumrie

Dear Clint,

That was when we lived in Mill Bank. I think it was a parents’ evening, but the pub was a posh one in Rishworth and we were there with a visiting friend of yours who could pay for our meals with a business card. Talking about getting dressed quickly after returning from work, I was once playing darts at The Anchor and felt uncomfortable down below. I reached into my jeans and pulled out … a pair of underpants. A watching local said, “That’s a hard trick to do is that.”

The little red man

George MurphyIn an art class at college, I cut out a dancing figure from shiny red paper.

In the next class, a lass whose dad was a coal miner in County Durham, saw it on the floor, fancied it and put it on her workbench.

Her friend, who lived on the Blenheim Palace estate in Woodstock (her dad wrote The Oxford Book of Birds), asked if she could have the little red man.

A few week’s later, I met the naturalist’s  daughter at a party and we went back to her place. She smoked gitanes and when we kissed I told her she tasted like an ashtray. I saw the little red man pinned on her noticeboard.

The two women left college the following summer, the posh one bought a house down south with cash from a legacy. She sent me a note ending our brief relationship, which was fine by me, but she also sent me her friend’s address. One year later I married the coal miner’s daughter. 

The promised land!

This is from Clare Shaw’s book, Flood (2018) published by Bloodaxe Books. Clare is a star of the local writers scene and I send thanks and best wishes to all those writers who have agreed to share their works in these columns in 2019.

Who knows what it’s like

to grow up outnumbered
To be one in a hundred

to talk the wrong talk, to walk the wrong path
to be laughed at and spat at,
to get used to that stuff?
To live the wrong life; to be from the wrong town?
To not have the sense or the chance

to fit in, to keep your head down -
to dance the wrong dance
with the wrong type of man?
to dance the wrong dance
with a girl?
My god, it took guts
on those very cold nights
in those very small boats.
Each week I climbed Pendle in not-the right-boots,
walked my heels raw in no coat -

but they’d hung all the witches
and buried the Nutters
so it was back to the pictures
and maps of old places
looking for names I might know. Oh

Todmorden - valley of honey and sun!
Hebden - oh promised land!

Over the moor’s broad shoulder; down
over its muscular arm -
it was way more than home knit -
and joss stick and dope.
More than moorland and ruined farm.

It was climbers and folkies and vegans and hippies
and commies and junkies and straight-talking farmers
and anarchist punks and hikers and drunks
and peaceniks and loonies of various colours
and lesbian mothers and day-tripping shoppers

and artists and dreamers and rain blowing sideways
on communal houses in minus-ten winters
and poets and sun on the stone.
I grew up outnumbered, one hundred to one.
I found my own people. My kin.

That’s all folks!

We hope you enjoyed Murphys Lore and wish you a revitalising, rewarding, unflooded Christmas and a healthy and happy New Year. Spring is on the way! xx

George and Kath

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

More Murphy's Lore

See the Murphy's Lore home page for all 52 editions.