Continuing the second series of the offbeat HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
There's Whisky George, a film pitch rejected, poems censored, a President demented, a gruesome tale, rude awakenings, absenteeism and lateness, singing to Tommy Steel, Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel, Shania Twain and Kylie Minogue, music remembered, getting Joe's number and readers who wrote.
Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 24: Lockdown diary
Monday, 8 February 2021
Monday, January 25
Walking over the park bridge, a Scotsman told me, “I love your blogs.” This man with impeccable taste, die-for hat and braveheart brogue, was Whisky George, aka George Paterson (‘with one tee’), who not only gave me condensed highlights of his life story, but wee drams of the old gold and copper coloured nectar in thimble sized tumblers and a pre Burns Night rendering of ‘wee timorous beastie’. George had worked on cruise ships, done stand up and before lock down warmed up the audience at the Trades Club for Maxine Peake’s gig. His whisky warmed me up too.
A sinister cabal of satan-worshipping, cannibalistic, pedophiles is running a global sex trafficking ring. This evil cabal organised the attack on the twin towers. Former President Donald J. Trump (cast as Messenger sent by God) has planned a day of reckoning, known as The Storm. An attack on the Capitol will be a precursor to the The Great Awakening, when US Military will brutally take over the country, executing the cabal, resulting in salvation and followed by utopia on earth.
‘Mmm … NEXT!’
Tuesday, January 26
On Facebook I shared a video of an Oxford poetry competition in which six young finalists read six short poems, and judges, including renowned poet Alice Oswald, gave their comments, but Facebook took it down!
I ticked a box to show I disagreed with this censorship, and tried to figure how come FB had taken 4 years to close down racist, right wing conspiracy theories, but I got the heave oh for six poems about the word SCROLL?!
We might groan about No. 10 briefings by Johnson, Patel or Hancock, but sometimes boring is best. The President of The Philippines, for instance, is never boring. This week, Rodrigo Duterte told Filipinos, “If you think contractors are falsely using my name, or the names of people in my cabinet, just stab them. Don’t shoot, because it’s noisy and you might easily get caught.”
Wednesday, January 27th
Calderdale Council has proudly announced that everyone in care homes has received a COVID vaccination. Today I had a jab to prevent shingles, then went home and bravely jabbed myself in the finger as part of mass research into Covid antibodies. Now we wait for the next jab.
There will be blood
When we watch the news, if Jude’s passing through, he asks us to mute it and use subtitles. He has paranoid, disorganised schizophrenia and a library of horror films he uses to innoculate himself against the terrors of real life. PW sits with him, enjoying some of his DVDs, although she found The Joker too disturbing. In fact, people have always found great comfort from being frightened (almost) out of their wits.
Lady Mary was young, and Lady Mary was fair. She had more admirers than you’ve had pizzas, but the one she fell for was Mr. Fox. She didn’t know his back story, except he was rich, which she liked, and bold, which she liked. So they became engaged. She asked Mr. Fox where they’d live, and he described his castle and where it was, but didn’t invite her to see it.
Near the wedding-day, Lady Mary secretly set out for Mr. Fox's castle, and a fine strong house it was, but when she came up to the gateway she saw written on it: BE BOLD, BE BOLD!
She was bold, so she went through it, and up to the door. Over it was written: BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD!
Still she went on, till she came into the hall, and went up the broad stairs till she came to a door in the gallery, over which was written: BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD, LEST THAT YOUR HEART'S BLOOD RUN COLD!
Lady Mary opened the door, revealing the bodies and skeletons of beautiful women all stained with blood. Dismayed, she stumbled out to the gallery, ran as quickly as her long skirts allowed down the stairs and into the hall, but was interrupted in her flight when, who should she see through the window, but Mr. Fox dragging a beautiful young lady along from the gateway to the door. She hid herself behind a cask, just as Mr. Fox came in with the young gentlewoman, who seemed to have fainted.
As he got near Lady Mary, Mr. Fox saw a diamond ring glittering on the finger of the young woman and he tried to pull it off. It was too tightly fixed, so Mr. Fox swore, drew his sword and chopped off the gentlewoman’s hand, which flew through the air and fell into Lady Mary's lap. Mr. Fox searched for it, but did not think of looking behind the cask, so at last he dragged the young lady up the stairs into the Bloody Chamber. Carrying the severed hand, Lady Mary titptoed across the hallway and made off as fast as she could.
Next day the marriage contract of Lady Mary and Mr. Fox was to be signed, after a ceremonial breakfast. Mr. Fox was seated opposite Lady Mary. "How pale you are this morning, my dear,” he said.
"I had a bad night's rest last night. I had horrible dreams."
"Dreams are often misleading," said Mr. Fox; "but tell us of yours."
"I dreamt, I went yestermorn to your castle, and over the gateway was written: ‘BE BOLD, BE BOLD’!”
"But it is not so, nor was it so," said Mr. Fox.
"And when I came to the doorway over it was written: ‘BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD’.”
"It is not so, nor was it so," said Mr. Fox.
"And then I went upstairs onto a gallery, at the end of which was a door, on which was written: ‘BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BUT NOT TOO BOLD, LEST THAT YOUR HEART'S BLOOD RUN COLD.”
"It is not so, nor was it so," said Mr. Fox.
"And then I opened the door, and the room was filled with bodies and skeletons of poor dead women, all stained with their blood."
"It is not so, nor was it so. And God forbid it should be so," said Mr. Fox.
"I then dreamt that I rushed down the gallery, and just as I was going down the stairs, I saw you, Mr. Fox, coming up to the hall door, dragging after you a poor young lady, rich and beautiful."
"It is not so, nor was it so. And God forbid it should be so," said Mr. Fox.
"I rushed downstairs, just in time to hide myself behind a cask, when you, Mr. Fox, came in, dragging the young lady by the arm. And, as you passed me, Mr. Fox, I thought I saw you try and take off her diamond ring, and when you could not, Mr. Fox, it seemed to me in my dream, that you took out your sword and hacked off the poor lady's hand to get the ring."
"It is not so, nor was it so. And God forbid it should be so," said Mr. Fox.
Lady Mary cried out: "But it is so, and it was so. Here's hand and ring I have to show," and pulled out the lady's hand from her dress, and pointed it straight at Mr. Fox.
At once her brothers and her friends drew their swords and cut Mr. Fox into a thousand piece
Thursday, January 28th
Morning is broken
Most mornings, I’m not unlike a lizard, basking wanly in the silvery, winter light, taking my own good time to come round. Alan Fowler, sage of Old Town, told me that when he was a commuter, regulars agreed a rule of silence on the morning train to Manchester, but were allowed to be full of banter on the return journey. How wise.
At college, PW roomed for a while with a god squad girl who threw open the curtains at 7am and piped, “Good morning, Kathleen!” before bursting into a full throated rendition of We plough the fields and scatter. Katheen responded with a groan, followed by a muffled salvo of invective from under her pillow.
Friday, January 29th
I’m usually awake by 5am, but it wasn’t always like this. As a schoolboy, me mom woke me with a shout of, “It’s 25 to 8!” In winter I sometimes opened my eyes to see icy images of exotic fauna on my window. My nose was as numb from the cold as ever it was from a dentist’s injection of cocaine (remember those jabs?). I pulled the weighty blankets back up over my head and tried to re-enter my rudely disrupted dream. The smell of toast from downstairs was a powerful lure, but I tried to fight it.
I heard the girls bustling about their ablutions then noisily descend the stairs. After which, I counted down from a hundred, slowly. After which, I counted down from 50. Then from 10. Me mom would shout me before I got to zero, “You’re going to be late!”
It was at this point that I sometimes decided to be ill. I dressed and cold water washed and joined my sisters at the breakfast table, steeling myself not to eat. The light programme played chirpily in the background, the announcer telling the stay at home mums to relax now their husbands had gone off to the office: this next tune was for them.
Accompanied by The Sunny Side of the Street, I bit a corner off my toast and felt it fall into the empty canyons of my stomach.
“What’s wrong with you?” me mom asked at last.
I didn’t answer.
“Are you not feeling well?”
I shook my head, forlornly.
“He’s pretending, mom,” Sue or Kath said.
With great determination, I pushed my toast laden plate away from me.
Usually me mom would say, “Well I don’t want the School Board Officer after me, so you’d better eat up and get a move on!”
But every now and then she’d say, “Well, you’d better stay off then.”
When the girls complained I was having her on, she said, “Well, it’s his turn.”
After the girls had left, with only me Mom and the wireless for company, she said, “That toast has gone cold. Do you want some more?”
“Yes please, mom,” I’d say, weakly.
Outside, as the kids tumbled out from their council semis, I wolfed down my toast.
By 9.20 me mom had washed up, turned off the wireless, donned her coat and head scarf, and set out off with her bags for her walk down the Port. After she’d gone, when I’d played for a while with my toy soldiers, the house noticed I wasn’t an adult and allowed itself an indiscreet, disconcerting creak.
I asked two teenage girls who wondered close past me in a shop why they weren’t wearing masks. They grinned. One said, “I’m exempt!”
I said, “Wear a badge then - my friend has one and they’re easy to …”
Chief smirker interrupted. “If you harass me anymore, I’ll sue you!”
In the square, John Billingsley stopped for a socially distanced chat. He told me a librarian colleague asked a woman to put her mask on and the woman said, “I don’t wear masks.” John asked, “Why didn’t you challenge her?”
Thing is, librarians, shopkeepers and so on, don’t really want confrontations, do they? Who does, to be honest? I mean, it’s only a matter of life and death.
The final Friday in the month was always Storytelling Night at the Stubbing Wharf. This time last year I took photos of our audience after a performance by Lucy Lill. What a difference a pandemic makes.
Saturday, January 30th
When I was a child, I was in the habit on a Saturday morning of singing a medley of hits by Tommy Steele, under the illusion that Tommy might have had a tip off, sneaked onto the landing to hear me, and would burst into my room at any moment to sign me up for his record company. Reader, I have to report that this never happened. It was many years later that me mom confided to PW that she’d found my early morning singing “a bit annoying.”
Monday, February 1st
I hate being late. Take today for instance, I had a dental appointment and it went: showered by 9.30; spent extra time doing my gnashers, then dressed, breakfasted, pocket patted for my wallet - check, phone - check, mask - check, glasses and plastic bag - check. Then time checked: 10.15.
“You don’t be want to be too early,” said PW, from the kitchen.
“I like to be there in good time, thank you very much, Mrs M.”
“Fine,” she said, “but according to the appointment card you stuck to the fridge, you’ll be precisely one month early.”
Tuesday, February 2nd
Variations on a theme by Lewis Carroll
At my secondary mod in the sixties, late arrival was punished by three whippy whacks across the palm from a cane wielded by Jack Lewis, the Head. When confronted about my tardiness, I could have said, “After marital breakdown, ours is an adult free home. My older siblings leave at some unearthly hour, for gainful employment at a local paper mill, expecting me to “bloody well get yourself up.”
Instead, knowing I was already too late for registration and assembly, I lay in bed, watching the clock tick past 8.30, and imagined a different scenario. When asked by the HT, “What terrible impediment prevented you from joining us at the appointed hour, Murphy minor?” I’d wipe my fevered brow and pull up my Windsor knot, before replying:
’Twas brilig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Imaginary Jack Lewis would respond solicitously.
Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!
Then he’d pass me his trusty sword, kept specially for such occasions, and I would set off to Stanney Woods (which were larger and much wilder in those days, before the building of Cheshire Oaks Retail Village and The David Lloyd Tennis Centre).
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought -
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
Where I would be greeted by the overjoyed Head espying the severed head.
‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
He chortled in his joy.
Whereas, back in the real world, I waited till the clock ticked past 8.45, then threw my gear on, brushed my teeth, rubbed a flannel across my mush, cycled to school on my sister’s bike, sprinted across the empty playground at 9.30, nipped into the bogs, then joined onto the end of my class as they trooped past on the way into 3A maths. I slid into my seat and wrote down the date in my sum book, but noticed an ominous silence. Looking up at last, I saw Evans the Maths with a satirical expression on his Edward G Robinson mush, “Ah, Murphy! Thank you for gracing us with your presence.” He paused for titters which didn’t arrive. Annoyed by this group solidarity, he ranted, “Here’s your Late Slip lad! Take it to the Head’s office! Pronto, if I was you!”
I came out of this reverie and opened the blinds. Something had happened overnight.
Wednesday, February 3rd
I feel like a woman
“Oh, oh, oh, get in the action, feel the attraction. Color my hair, do what I dare. Oh, oh, oh, I want to be free yeah, to feel the way I feel (feel the way I feel) Man! I feel like a woman!”
I blame Jude. He plays a 90s compilation CD in the car on our tours of the valley, and this week I’ve struggled to get off at night. I’ve had Shania Twain ear worms burrowing into my brain. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think she’s alright, but that don’t impress me in the middle of the night.
So today I asked young feller me lad to play a Noughties CD instead. Now I can’t get Kylie out of my head!
La la la, la, la, la, la la! La la, la, la, la, la la, la! La, la, la,la, la la lah! La, la, la, la, la. la, la, lah!
Et bloody cetera.
Thursday, February 4th
There’s a meme on social media: the number 1 hit on your 7th birthday defines 2021 for you. Mine turned out to be Ma, he’s making eyes at me, so I’m not sure what that portends for the rest of my year. When I shared this fancy on FaceBook I got 74 responses, from people who’d obviously googled or yahood the charts of yesteryear. Their replies were a reminder that, even in the 50s, there were lots of cool performers out there - as well as a large number of naff ones. I have a vivid memory of bopping with my sisters in our front room to Little Richard and me dad commenting, “Oh look, he’s sent!” Also I recall Grandad Murphy, holding me by my wrists - I came almost up to his waist - his delighted face bent close to me, laughing as we both jazzed about to Tootie Fruity.
John Foggin noted that in the early 50s “and, indeed, into the mid 50s,” the charts were mainly for sheet music sales. There were more pianos in houses back then (we even had one, but we weren’t allowed to play it). Victoria Wood, daughter of a script writer, taught herself how to play on a stand up. Alan Price was also self taught. Some older lads near us learnt to play guitar with the help of Bert Weedon songbooks.
Reading people’s replies, I was amazed that songs I hadn’t thought about for more than half a century came back to me so clearly. Whether it’s a blessing to instantly recall The Runaway Train and The Story of My Life (Michael Holliday), The Night has a Thousand Eyes (Bobby Vee), or Speedy Gonzales (Pat Boone) is a mute point, but at least they can be used to brain fade Kylie when she overstays her welcome.
Friday, February 5th
I got an advice call from a friendly NHS woman, in place of my usual 5 yearly check up. One of her tips was ,“Don’t drink tea or coffee after 6pm.” Which I sort of knew, but man is a creature of habit, likes to live dangerously and easily succumbs to temptation. I’ve slept right through the night since then - despite following her other suggestion of drinking 3 pints of water every day.
Saturday, February 6th
It poured down all day, but I was mentally transported to India, by way of Channel 4. I’ve managed to watch Joe Root for many hours recently, but I’d never thought about his attire, till PW glanced up and asked, “Can the players choose their own numbers?”
We persuaded the young man to try a pizza from Marco’s takeaway, to give us a break from cooking. Coincidentally, I was recently tempted to read The Divine Comedy, till I read John Carey’s A little history of poetry. “Of all world famous poets none is less likely to appeal to the modern reader than Dante Alighieri (c.1265 - 1321) … his beliefs are, for us, often repellent. He does not seem to have been attractive as a man, either. He comes across as vengeful and unforgiving.” So that’s him ticked off the list.
So PW persuaded me to read Isaakson’s life of Leonardo and My Brilliant Friend instead.
Folk singer and former probation officer turned handyman, Martin Francis, wrote to tell me how much he was enjoying the Murphy’s Lore paperback. So I gave a plug for Hippy Valley. He replied:
Yes I'll look out for Hippy Valley. Talking about hippies. When I lived up at The Kebs (Sportsman’s Arms) between Blackshaw Head and Burnley, Annie and myself joined in the New Year celebrations in the pub some years ago now. We'd never seen so many O.A.P hippies in our life! The place was shoulder to shoulder standing room only and it came as a surprise that we seemed to fit right in. It was bloody freezing but most of them camped in tents or rather scraps of cotton that had seen better days from the 60s. We worried about them but guessed they'd drank so much and smoked - you know what - that they wouldn't even feel the cold. Needless to say in the morning some of them needed to relieve themselves of the previous evening and early morning fluid intake and so we held open day toilet for them.
Whereas a friend of a Shropshire mate said, “Murphy’s Lore, not for me I don’t think.”
Fair enough, but I was thrilled by a response from Dr Iain Glencross of Halifax who, as it happens, contributed a song to the book on the vital matter of checking your bum. “I had three Laugh out Louds in the first two pages. I soon realised what this book put me in mind of, The table talk of Samuel Marchbanks, by the Canadian author Robertson Davies. Davies is my all time favourite author, so this is high praise indeed.”
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