Continuing the second series of the offbeat HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
In Episode 34 of Lockdown Diary, there’s a grand day out gone wrong, Ronnie Barker v Compo Simmonite, advice from Mo Mowlem, opium and cannabis in literature, a Rev on the run, lost and found relatives, being frank about Frank, Tod and UFOs, a midnight ramble, a spice road tale and Hancock gets a grip.
Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 34: Lockdown diary
Monday, 28 June 2021
When in doubt, garden.
A grand day out
We went to the wonderful Dove Cottage Nursery, where Carol Klein once got tipsy on her own superlatives, but it was shut because of roadworks.
So we crossed the road and shivered at Shibden Park, ambling forlornly around the duck pond in the Arctic gusts, until PW stopped, surprised by a cheering sight: a proud mother coot sitting on her nest on a floating island, her cute brood of baby coots paddling around her. Meanwhile, father coot was chasing away a pair of meandering mandarin ducks twice his size.
I told PW I’d once seen a nature programme where a mother coot led a line of infant coots around a pond, unaware that father coot was drowning the rearmost baby coot at the end of each lap. I said it was like a severe version of the cycling repechage, and I began to explain the rules of that contest when I noticed that PW’s dewy eyed enjoyment of the scene had vanished. Father coot squawked loudly.
“OK, it might have been moorhens, baldy!” I said, to placate them both.
PW drove us to Slack Top Nursery. ‘One of the top 10 alpine nurseries in the UK,’ I read from the online publicity. ‘A massive thank-you to all our customers for keeping us in business through the pandemic. Apologies to our EU customers as because of the Brexit fiasco it is no longer viable to send plants to Europe. However, we will always remain European in our hearts!’
We parked, and in a spirit of remainer solidarity, marched up to the gate. A sign said
SHUT all year because of COVID-19.
I mentioned to PW that there’s a very interesting graveyard next to the nursery, but she didn’t fancy it.
I chose to walk back. Under the gloomy, cloud filled sky, Heptonstall looked like the setting for a murder mystery. I got home nursing a blister, just in time to hear they’d had blazing sunshine and record temperatures in the South East (oh whoopee!), followed by the PM announcing an extension to lockdown.
Tuesday, June 15th
It’s lovely here on days like this, with the doors open to the sky and the repeat beat of water over the weir. I couldn’t relax long though because it was our date day. I went in search of my aftershave.
Wednesday, June 16th
This morning I had a dream that was like a dark TV comedy sketch. Ronnie Barker had been hoarding guns, but a laughing policeman came along, played by Compo Simmonite from Last of the Summer Wine. Laughing Compo shot Ronnie in the arm a few times with a pop gun and the studio audience gasped. Then PC Simmonite fired at Ronnie’s kitchen units and the doors fell open, revealing stashes of plastic firearms. Compo and the studio audience laughed mockingly as Ronnie groaned. I awoke. A guy was trying to kick start his recalcitrant motor bike just along the way.
Thursday, June 17th
Drugs in literature
Horatio Clare recalls a time when he enjoyed a meal with a young Richard Coles and a wise Mo Mowlem at the Groucho Club. Mo asked the two men what they wanted to be. Richard wanted to be a priest and Horatio wanted to be a writer. She told them, “Well, fucking do it then!”
In later years, Rev Coles travelled up from London to visit ‘H’ in his psychiatric ward and asked about the other patients. Our lauded travel writer replied, “Every single one of us has a relationship with cannabis. It’s a fucking plague.”
John Sutherland reminds us that drug misuse is not a new phenomenon. In the 19th century, ’opium was available, legally and cheaply, at every corner apothecary and public house. Some bookshops sold it to their browsing patrons.’
In Villette, a potion of alcohol and laudanum is taken by Lucy Snow, who wanders out into a fairground, and Sutherland believes Charlotte Bronte writes ‘the most accurate, and sympathetic, depiction of opiate intoxication in Victorian fiction’. He reckons Branwell (for certain) and the sisters (probably) indulged.
Friday, June 18th
In A little history of poetry, John Carey argues “Coleridge’s greatest poems lie far outside Wordsworth’s scope” and “Kubla Khan would be selected by many as the greatest English poem,” (brave call). That remarkable poem was the result of an opium reverie after reading a book about the eponymous Mongol Emperor. The Bronte sisters had certainly read it, and Confessions of an opium eater, by Thomas De Quincey, Coleridge’s friend.
Satuday, June 20th
Redhead on the run
Thinking of Haworth, I dug out the bizarre tale of Reverend Redhead, who was given the incumbency of Haworth Church by the Vicar of Bradford in 1828, but the Haworth trustees would have none of it. Appointing the Haworth vicar was their privilege! At his first Sunday sermon, the congregation left en masse when Redhead started the reading. Mrs Gaskell (biographer, novelist and opium eater) retold Charlotte’s account of the scenes that followed …
The following Sunday, as soon as Redhead began his sermon, a man rode into church sitting backward on an ass, facing the beast’s tail and wearing several hats on his head. Cries and laughter drowned out the preacher’s sermon and he left the pulpit in the uproar.
The next Sunday, the would-be curate returned with a posse of bodyguards from Bradford. During the sermon, a chimney sweep, ‘well plied with drink’ stood next to the pulpit, and his black face nodded in sarcastic agreement during Reverend Redhead’s reading, until he finally clambered up the steps to the pulpit and tried to embrace the preacher. The Reverend Redhead dodged past him, but was chased by the sweep. The vicar and his bodyguard escaped into the Black Bull, where the doors were bolted behind them.
An excited crowd waited threateningly outside, causing the landlord and stable boys to ride their horses through them with the reverend and his men seated behind them as they charged down the hill to Bradford.
Some months later a cart brought a new man up the hill to Haworth, a man appointed by the local trustees: Reverend Patrick Bronte from Thornton.
By one of those I.T. miracles we take for granted, my long lost but now found cousin Jean in Liverpool, got a message from a London Jean, who’d looked on Liverpool Jean’s ancestor site, and wondered if she was related to a Frank Murphy, who married her mum, back in the 70s.
Cousin Jean contacted me. I sent dad’s details and the name of London Jean’s mum, Phoebe, to clinch it.
Sunday, June 20th
I got booze and a card from Darling Daughter, a card from Rosie, and a book token from Jude. Afterwards we enjoyed our first meal at the new tapas place next to the wavy steps. We were the only ones sitting inside. Even the canned music was good.
Me dad was trying to hang wallpaper in the front room. Our Kath and I were on the settee. Me dad had a face on him, but we were used to that. He had a pasting table and was dabbing it here, dabbing it there, as the song goes, when the strip of wall paper he’d just put up rolled back down the wall and enveloped him. Me and our Kath laughed, spontaneously, but I was only half way through my guffaws when me dad wrestled out from under the paper and shouted, “Don’t you bloody laugh at me!”
I hid behind a book, my head shaking, the laugh trapped behind my lips. I glanced at our Kath. She mischievously raised an eyebrow and my laugh barped out.
“I’m warning yer, I’m bloody warning yer!” me dad shouted.
Me mom came in from the kitchen and said to him, “If you don’t want to do it, don’t do it!”
The thing is, me dad was a serial killer. Lots of dads were back then. Many had killed Germans, whereas me dad had killed Japanese. Of course, me dad didn’t tell us kids that one time he’d found the headless bodies of squaddies, nor did he let on that he’d heard men screaming as they were tortured in the dense jungle a short distance from his camp. Me dad drank too much. Sometimes he shouted in his sleep.
Back in 1937, Frank Murphy was walking past an army recruiting office and a sergeant beckoned him inside saying, “You look a likely lad.” Me dad signed up. He was only 16, but he lied about his age. Thirty years on, recovering from divorce, depression and electric shock therapy, he was walking past Ealing Broadway TV studios when he noticed the commissionaire standing outside. Me dad fancied the uniform, made enquiries and was offered a job.
Over the next 15, 20 years or so, he got to know the stars. He helped to carry Frankie Howard to his taxi when he over indulged. He chatted to Cilla Black in the lift. She said, “You sound just like me dad.” He even turned the ‘clapometer’ on Top of the Pops. And the hospitality lounge was packed with executives, producers, actors, newscasters, technicians, secretaries, cleaners and commissionaires at his retirement do.
Before he retired, me dad married Phoebe, who had a son, Brian - and a daughter, named Jean, who has just contacted me.
Monday, June 21st
Rosie’s class has been told to isolate for 10 days, as Covid numbers rise across Calderdale. Meanwhile, the fear is that COVID-19 was caused by an escape from a laboratory. There’s lots of wet markets in China, but the source of the outbreak was in Wuhan, which happens to have a lab where they investigate the ‘potential’ of deadly viruses.
Todmorden, the UFO capital of the UK, waits in eager anticipation for a USA military report into over 150 ‘unexplained aerial encounters’.
Tonight, at ten past ten, we photographed the garden.
Then we strolled around the block.
Tuesday, June 22nd
Met Jude in town and he told me about a friend whose daughter was on holiday in Bali. Her mate gave her a vape, but didn’t tell her she’d put marijuana in it. Police arrested them both and put them in a rat infested cell. They told them they could go free if they paid £5000. Jude’s friend contacted a solicitor, who told the police they would only be paid £2000. That was enough to get them released.
I finished Heavy Light. The author’s determination to avoid medication, is echoed in some ways by the Britney Spears’ case, which is in court at the moment. Except Clare’s partner and health workers believed they were protecting him and his family from his manias by supporting a standard, pharmacological treatment regime. There’s something more sinister in Britney’s case. It’s not just lithium she wants to free herself from.
Heavy Light is in The Bookcase. It’s a harrowing story to begin with, but remember how it feels when you’ve been really ill and you can’t quite express your joy and relief at returning to good health? Well, joy is felicitously expressed in this account. Also, the journalism is thorough and his judgements well argued. His descriptions of people bring them brilliantly to life - and he likes it round here.
It’s a knockout
1-0. If we don’t start singing Football’s Coming Home, we’ve got a chance.
Wednesday, June 23rd
There’s an interesting new shop on Market Street, owned by a Dutch chap, who’s lived in Hebden for a dozen years, and loves it. This evening, I look in the art exhibition at Nathan the barber’s, featuring the man himself.
Thursday, June 24th
A folk tale to share with your kids …
The third eye
Cheng was a healer and fortune teller. He had the gift of the third eye and one day he saw two demons enter the market where he had his stall. The demons soon got up to mischief, tripping a dignitary, robbing an apple from a stall, and putting it into a poor goatherd’s hand as he passed by, causing the stall holder to chase after him. Then a post boy came past, holding a letter in a cleft stick above his head and so the demons fell into step behind him. The post boy crossed the market to the house of the school teacher. Cheng quit his stall and followed them. As the servant girl opened the door, he saw the demons slip into the house.
Cheng sat in the tea room opposite the teacher’s house. In time he saw a servant girl rush out and then return with the physician. Later he saw the physician leave, shaking his head. Cheng paid the tea seller, then walked to the teacher’s house. He asked the servant girl if someone had fallen ill in the house. He was taken to a room where the teacher’s daughter Yan lay on a mattress, her parents kneeling sadly beside her. Cheng could see the demons sucking the lifeblood out of her with long straws. He explained what the parents must do to save Yan’s life. Soon every crack and crevice, every opening to the world outside the room was crammed with folded paper and parchment. Cheng was given a saucepan and metal ladle and then he ordered everyone from the room.
Cheng bashed and clattered the saucepan with the ladle. The piercing red eyes of the demons turned towards him. He clattered the pan even louder. The demons writhed and squealed and hissed, then fell to the ground, as if in their death throes. Just then, Yan’s little brother, awakened by the din, ran to the door of the room and before his parents could stop him, pulled the folded paper from the key hole to see if his sister was stirring.
WHOOOSH! the demons flew out through the key hole and back into the outside world.
Yan began to recover and by the next morning she was as well as well could be. As the family celebrated the recovery of Yan, Cheng slipped away, knowing that he had not seen the last of his new demon enemies.
Cheng’s fame spread. The local ruler heard of his popularity and sent for him. The ruler had summoned his courtiers to witness the event. A servant brought in a small box shaped object with a cloth draped over it.
“Well, Cheng. I am told you have miraculous powers. Let’s put them to the test. But if you fail to answer correctly you will be executed at day break! Tell me, how many animals are hidden in the cage beneath this cloth? ”
“Two,” Cheng replied calmly.
The ruler stepped forward and lifted the cloth, revealing a single plump rat. The court gasped. The ruler nodded with satisfaction.
“Cheng, we see that you are an imposter, and an enemy of my people. At daybreak you will be beheaded in the public square!”
But the ruler’s physician believed in Cheng’s powers and that night he couldn’t sleep. He sent for a servant and asked him to bring him the rat in the cage. Once he had killed the rodent, the physician saw that the rat was a pregnant female with a single foetus in her womb. It was almost sunrise. He rushed to the ruler’s chamber with his evidence. “Quick sire,” he said. “You must stop the execution.” The ruler ordered the guards to raise the flag above the prison walls to show the populace and the executioner that the execution had been halted.
As the sun rose behind the hills, Cheng was brought out to the square. The dignitaries sat on a raised dais. The poor people looked on silently. The executioner bowed solemnly to Cheng who bowed in return. The people and the executioner looked up to the guards on the high wall of the prison. The sun rose above the hills and lit up the scene. A guard marched to the flag pole and pulled on the ropes to raise the flag and signal that there had been a reprieve. But the flag did not rise. There was a groan from the gathering. The guard pulled and pulled, but the flag would not rise and unfurl.
Only Cheng could see the two demons, grinning and waving to him as they swung from the flag pole, preventing the flag from rising. Then he heard the swoosh of the executioner’s blade, he instinctively closed his eyes, but his third eye saw everything.
Friday, June 25th
Hancock gets a grip
No social distancing for our Health Secretary.
Sunday, June 26th
Hancock jumped, he wasn’t pushed! Despite the PM’s backing, the pressure was too much. Remember that theory of the tipping point, events pile up until one day they tip over and everything changes?
I wonder when the next tipping point will happen in politics? Pollsters use a different term, they describe it as going from a talking point to a turning point. Perhaps Hancock will be a talking point, not a turning point, the rules of normal politics don’t apply in a pandemic, because we all want the government to succeed. Perhaps the turning point won’t happen before the Batley & Spen By-Election. People who supported Brexit might not be ready to change direction quite so soon, they’d be admitting they made a mistake. Also, the Tories are enjoying a ‘vaccine bounce’. But one day, perhaps not so far off, the tipping point in public opinion will be reached.
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