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Friday, 28 December 2018

Murphy's Lore

The HebWeb is very pleased to present the first of a regular column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.

Bucket List
I used to get asked if I had any New Year’s Resolutions. These days it’s ‘Have you written your Bucket List? The purpose of the Bucket List is to terrify and test ourselves in as many ways as possible - jumping from aeroplanes, wild swimming in Gaddings Dam in mid winter - before we actually kick the bucket.

I have it mind to devise an alternative list… challenges which might be quite stimulating but aren’t worth the hassle (or the possibility of agonising death). The working title involves substituting an F for the B in Bucket List.

Christmas Presents

You don’t see as many kids playing out these days - even on Christmas Day. When I was a kid Christmas Day was the day to show off your presents to the other kids in the street. One year my sisters got bikes. Ashamed that I couldn’t ride a bike, I asked instead for a Freddy Mills punch bag and boxing gloves. On Christmas morning, I got bored punching the punch bag and went outside to join the other boys with my two pairs of boxing gloves.

The big lads organised a bout between me and Paul Dunne, my height but with a bigger frame on him. I’d seen an old film of Rocky Marciano, who’d retired as an undefeated heavyweight champ and when the fight started I copied Rocky’s style, crouching and waiting to throw upper cuts. Paul punched me in the face. The world stopped for a second or two.

After each time he punched me, Paul apologised. In the 3rd round, Mrs James from 111 came out and stopped the fight, to avoid me taking further punishment. So I lost on a TKO, while my sisters sailed serenely past me, blissfully enjoying their new bikes.

Help the aged

To see ourselves as others see us…

A few years back, I was sent to Boots in Crown Street to buy a ‘training nappy’ for our grandaughter. I checked the nappy shelves, but decided to consult with the assistant. Just then a woman bustled into the shop with some friends and noisily headed for the counter. I picked up my pace, without making it too obvious, unintentionally shoulder charging her as she accelarated past the Lady Shave products.

After getting my breath back, I asked the assistant, ‘Can you give me some advice on nappies, please?’

She said, ‘Have you got your prescription?’

A pattern is emerging. I was methodically walking round Hebden Bridge Co-op with my basket and I’d ticked half of my shopping list when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a handsome young woman, with a ring through her left nostril. She was smiling broadly and for one fleeting moment I wondered if she was a fan of original monologues told in the traditional Music Hall manner and might want my autograph.

Instead she said, ‘Have we forgotten something?’

I looked nonplussed.

Then smilingly, with a magician’s flourish, she brought from behind her back a walking stick. She had found it abandoned in the aisle and presumed it was mine.

So I vapourised her with my death stare.

Car Repairs

To the garage to pick up the bill after a service. The mechanic rattles through the expensive but necessary repairs as I’m handed the bill and I’ve not got the foggiest what he’s on about, but in this gender stereotyping world I go through a mime of nodding and thoughtfully stroking my chin until my eyes alight on the bottom line (How much?)

Somewhat poorer, I’m nearly home when I remind myself that at least after a service you get that satisfying sharpness when you brake. Then I realise I’m not in the car… I’ve walked back.

The Birds and the Bees

As a child I remember hearing the phrase ‘The Facts of Life’ and how the older lads all grinned and nodded, knowingly. I grinned too, even though I had no idea what the facts of life were. They sounded grandiose, like a great cosmic joke by God. It was years later before I discovered that this was true.

In the 90s, at an agricultural show on Savile Park in Halifax, my son watched a beekeeper as he pointed out the Queen and the worker bees in their hive. The apiarist asked his audience if they had any questions. Jude said, ‘Is there a King bee?’

‘That’s a very good question,’ the beekeper replied. ‘In a word, no!’ without expanding on his answer. I’ve recently been researching into the sex lives of the birds and the bees for a new song and discovered the grisly truth.

Male honeybees when mating feel foreboding,
Their privy parts are famous for exploding.
The Queen thinks all her males are fools,
She gets a grip of their crown jewels…
And tears them off just after their uploading.

Acre Mill

In November, I wrote a song about the Acre Mill disaster and Chris Ratcliffe of HebWeb put me in touch with Frances (Fay) Robinson. Chris and Fay have compiled an archive of the tragedy on HebWeb (see HebWeb Feature on Acre Mill) and Fay leant me a book by Geoffrey Tweedale which closes with this moving and angry response from a victim. She worked for Turner and Newall in Rochdale, but her case was dealt with by John Pickering, the Hebden Bridge solicitor whose firm battled Cape Industries at Old Town and Turner and Newall to get justice and compensation.

"Damn You, Turner Brothers.I am in control now. What a bastard—fresh, gritty, sticky fluffy blue asbestos sits there all so quietly for around thirty years then says, 'Here I am, nasty and deadly'.

I have to get this down on paper while my mind is in shock. It will be too bloody scary later on. I need something to fight with to make me strong again. I'm just not ready to give up. I like living. . . [but] l have to tell my children and my parents who are both alive, in their eighties . . . that I have been cheated out of thirty or more years.

That's thanks to you, Turner Brothers. We worked for you in the fluffy, blue snow. You never said it got on your lungs and just iay there for twenty to thirty years. You knew something because you gave us all those X-rays early on. But no masks, as we had to spit on our fingers to make it stick quick. We were on piece-work, remember. I damn you and blue asbestos as it grows like buggery in me.

Why were we not told about this? Why! Damn you Turner Brothers.“

Independent, 25 November 1997. John Pickering kindly provided me with a copy of this reference.

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