Continuing the second series of the offbeat HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
In this episode, there’s a lost stadium, supermarket shopping and parking matters, vaccines and the promise of spring, a magpie and The king of the cats, dead eyed Queens, computer problems and granny power, Tier 3 and one story that leads to another.
Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 19: Lockdown diary
Monday, 30 November 2020
Before we wore masks
Once upon a time, handshakes and hugs were legal. Football matches had fans. There were parties and festivals. People went to the pictures and the Trades Club and thought nowt of it.
It’s true - it’s all here in this new paperback!
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Monday, November 16th
Thrum Hall memories
Asda is massive and today it was bustling, with long queues at the handful of checkouts. Asda’s design is to funnel customers through self-service. “It’s because it’s owned by Walmart,” reckoned Jude. What the Americans did yesterday we do today.
A stadium once stood where Asda now sprawls. They called it Thrum Hall, a name which has the thrumming sound of of a weaving mill about it. I went every other Sunday. Now there’s just a memorial board in Asda, displaying photos of rugby league legends. As I looked at the blue and white heroes, they came to life again, the crowd roaring as they dived for the try line, which must have been situated between the self service checkouts and the hand sanitisers.
As Jude was choosing a DVD, I strolled back across Asda car park. A young white guy blasting black ghetto music zoomed his souped up motor into a Disabled Parking Bay. He killed the music, climbed out, pulled on his black mask, clicked on his alarm and met my eyes with a look of ‘And?’. Then he jogged off in his JD gear to fetch a trolley. I surveyed his low slung car. A pair of miniature blue footballs dangled from the driver’s mirror. There was a “LOVE MOBILE” sticker on the windscreen. On the rear screen the sticker proclaimed, YES I DO HAVE A DISABILITY! and another gave the name of said condition and advised doubters they should go away and google it. I grudgingly thought ‘good for him’.
By the time I got to our car, I couldn’t remember the name of Jogger Man’s malady, except it began with ‘DIS’. Perhaps, despite his “LOVE MOBILE” sticker, he suffered from disappointment. I imagined him driving round in his ghetto blasting car, all alone, except for his blue balls.
We know a woman, in her 70s now, who worked in the council offices in Halifax, dealing with disability cases involving children. Although she was a key worker, the Finance Department only allowed better paid employees to possess a parking permit.
One time, she needed to get to a meeting but couldn’t find a space in Woolshops' carpark.
In the meeting room, they’d be sipping coffees and glancing towards the door, thinking she was cutting it fine. She pictured the councillors in their suits, the Ed Psych, the man from Finance and the child’s mum, who’d pinned her hopes on her finding the right school for her son. So she parked in a Disabled Parking Bay - telling herself it was in a good cause. She climbed out, and was leaning into her car to gather her files when she heard a voice.
“Excuse me. You don’t look as if you have a disability.” The voice belonged to a kindly busybody, with a disappointed, rather than an angry face, but she needed to get on.
She said, “I’ve got a heart condition.”
“Oh, dear …” He looked embarrassed. “I am so sorry.”
Three minutes to go. She shifted a box file under her arm and shoved another into her tote bag.
“Would you like me to help you with those?”
“No, thank you, I’ll take it nice and steady.”
She set off at a sedate pace up Woolshops. Half way up, she looked back. Sure enough, he was looking out for her. He waved. She waved back, and cursed. She continued her slow progress, slightly increasing her cadence approaching Cafe Cali. Once round the corner she legged it like Linford Christie on steroids.
Tuesday, 17th November
In the park, the women ahead of me are discussing the new vaccine.
“It will be cheaper. They can store it easier, just keep it in a fridge”
“They say life could be back to normal by spring.”
“Yes, but it’s only 70% successful.”
As I drew alongside, I said, “But a small dose, then a big one will make it 90% efficient.”
“Oh good,” they chorused.
Suddenly, we’ve all become amateur immunologists.
Hebden Bridge was on the evening news. An electric bike firm are delivering shopping round here, “everything from vintage clothes to cheese,” and keeping alive our local shops. Hebden looked handsome.
Wednesday, 18th November
Gillian Anderson’s mimicking of Thatcher’s speech is strangulated and squeezed out. She misses Thatcher’s bounding, bravura self belief. Olivia Coleman gives a less stilted performance. She ditches Claire Foy’s magnificent, dutiful, dead eyed Maj, for a sunny, home counties matron, baffled by the lack of gratitude from her unhappy offspring.
The series reminds us of the disdainful treatment of Diana. The papers say the real royals are really upset at their depiction. Good.
Thursday, November 19th
During lockdown a single magpie has been hanging about these parts in a foreboding manner. It settled on our balcony this morning, just in front of me. I expected to see the beautiful glossy, iridescent, blue and purple wings, but for the first time I noticed its green tail feathers. Magpies are not a black and white matter. They’re an intelligent bird, and apparently can recognise themselves in something called ‘the mirror test’. Whatever, PW doesn’t like them. She says they eat songbird eggs and chicks. This from a woman who owns two cats!
Calderdale are in the top twenty council areas suffering from the second wave. “The rates of infection have increased in recent weeks … with an infection rate of 488 cases per 100,000. This is the highest the rate has ever been in Calderdale. We expect that it will continue to rise in the coming days.”
Before this lockdown, PW visited a nail bar and the proprietor said one of her clients is a nurse. This nurse reckoned Calderdale Royal only has one emergency bed available because of the upsurge in Covid.
We’re on the TV again. We’re the go to place for news items. 70 traders have signed up for a “unique scheme which allows shoppers to buy online from local shops all on the same website.” - Hebden Bridge leads the way in a bid to beat lockdown shopping slump (ITV News)
Friday, November 20th
Getting up early every morning and feeding our felines, I’ve been reading about the pros and cons of cats. I’ve always loved Kipling’s The Cat that Walked By Himself, so I was struck by this passage from Saki’s The Square Egg (1924):
“For not as a bond-servant or dependent has this proudest of mammals entered the human fraternity; not as a slave, like the beasts of burden, or a humble camp-follower like the dog. The cat is domestic only as far as it suits its own ends; it will not be kennelled or harnessed nor suffer any dictation as to its goings out or comings in.”
Saki recognised a dark connection between humans and cats: “the torture instinct is common alone to human and feline … and may find free play in the death-throes of some luckless bird or rodent.”
There’s a story from Durham called Johnny Reed’s Cat and a Lancashire version called The King of the Cats, that’s been brilliantly retold by my friends, Jackie Harris from Lancaster and Adam Sargant of Haworth.Here’s my version.
The King of the Cats
A cloud of soot fell down his chimney one day and old Harry cursed the magpie that had taken to rambling about on his roof, chattering away from first thing each morning. The black cloud missed Harry’s clothes, but settled on his face. When he stood up to check himself in the mirror, the whites of his eyes stood out against the pitchy black of his features. Then someone said, “Ahem.”
When Old Harry looked down, there was a brindled cat, standing there, bold as you like, up on his back paws and all. The cat said, “Tell Lord Denzil - Queen Deadeyes is dead.”
Whilst old Harry was taking in this information, the cat flew back up the chimney. Then Harry heard a fierce yowl, followed by a desperate squawk. After which a dead magpie tumbled down the chimney and landed in the hearth.
Harry took the magpie out into the garden to give it a decent interment in his bin. When he looked up, old wife Peggy was returning with the hens from the hen house, followed by Charlie the cat. Peggy said, “What a state tha’s in ‘Arry Longworth! Get thissen cleaned up, you’re as black as any collier.”
When they sat down to have their breakfast, Harry explained the strange events he’d recently witnessed.
“A talking cat?!” said Peggy. “Whatever did he say?”
“He said, ‘Tell Lord Denzil - Queen Deadeyes is dead’!”
Lo and behold, Charlie the cat looked up from his bowl of milk, walked over on his hind paws to the manner born, tapped old Harry on his knee and asked, “He said, Queen Deadeyes is dead?”
Old Harry and Peggy were so dumbstruck by this occurrence, they sat there open mouthed, both of them struck dumb. So Charlie looked with a hypnotic gaze into Harry’s eyes, till Old Harry muttered, “That’s what he said.”
Then Charlie said, “In that case, I’m King of the Cats!’
Whereupon, Charlie danced a little jig, bowed with a low sweep, then flew up the chimney, fast as a sparrow hawk.
Monday, 23rd November
Today my laptop screen went blank. When I turned it back on again a box appeared, centre screen, asking me to put in my ‘Keychain password’. So I did, but the box did an annoying little Rumpelstiltskin jig, challenging me to try again. Damn! I thought these keychains were supposed to work across all our gadgets? I tried a dozen or so half remembered passwords and none of them worked. So I rang Apple.
Daniel from Apple talked me through things. We were conversing on my landline and he asked me to direct my mobile phone camera at the screen. A red arrow appeared. Daniel asked me to try various tricks, and pointed the arrow at different parts of the screen, some of which were never previously explored. At one point, I had to put the landline down to type with both hands. Just as we seemed to be getting somewhere, Daniel’s voice became very quiet.
I turned the volume up on my phone. All I could hear was a tiny, flustered version of Daniel, as if he’d shrunk and then been trapped in a shoebox. I put my phone to my ear, but I could hardly hear him.
“Daniel, speak up, mate.”
“Daniel, I can’t hear you!”
“Daniel, have you accidentally turned your volume button down?”
“DANIEL! TURN YOUR VOLUME UP, DANIEL!”
The tiny, irritating, Daniel in the shoebox voice carried on. So I turned my phone off, and went out onto the balcony, to sulk and then to calm down. Mars was still shining brightly to the east. I regulated my breathing and tried to put this setback in perspective. In pretty short order, I brought my lecturer’s head out of retirement and determined to support young Daniel.
When I returned, I noticed the landline phone on the bed. The truth thumped me on the forehead. DOH! I had mixed up the two phones!
I imagined Daniel shouting down the landline …
“George, point your mobile at the screen again.”
“George, all I can see is your left ear!”
“George, I’m on your landline not your mobile.”
“George, pick up the landline, George.”
I stared at the landline and wondered if I should pick it up again, on the off chance that Daniel would still be there, thinking I should apologise. Except, by now, everyone in Daniel’s far away Apple office, might have been listening in, hoping to continue the saga. Remembering it was a wine night, I put the phone back in its cradle, waited till my pulse had slowed down, then went downstairs, trying to cheer myself up by whistling an old UB40 classic.
Wednesday 25th November
Today was PW’s birthday. Leah and Rosie came over.
As it happens, I’d just read an article about granny power. Researchers have found out that women who live in the Mosuo matrilineal villages of southwest China, where grandmothers are the head of the household, have lower blood pressure than those in the Mosuo patriarchal villages. Women in these villages inherit property and children take their mother’s surname. Known as the “kingdom of women” it is the “only known place in the world that lacks fathers and husbands. It is famous for its so called ‘walking marriages’ - where women only allow certain men to visit them at night.”
The Mosuo women choose as many male partners as they please.
Thursday, 26th November
Jude is a creature of habit, so I was sitting outside Asda with the radio on when the news came through. He’d been hoping we’d be in tier 2, then he’d have something else to do with his day. I reminded him that at least all the shops would be open from the 2nd. What he needs in his days are distractions, like the rest of us I suppose. Tonight Jude was in a bad way, he’d been hoping to see his friends in pubs and cafes again. We watched a Shane Ritchie DVD and the fiction was funny and dark enough to help him escape from his own terrors.
Saturday, 28th November
I once made up an alphabet game: Use homonyms and letters to proceed through the alphabet whilst telling a tale.
I had our Alf a bet
One morning Alf called round and found his brother digging in his back garden. Then he noticed the woman next door.
“A up!” he said, quietly, “A up !!!”
“B quiet … C D … Eee!”
“Eee lad, thee FG!”
“FG o’t Buddha in next door’s garden!”
Tony didn’t look up from his digging. “That’s my new neighbour, Mrs H, meditating.”
“I eye! Meditating is it? In a leotard. She’s a look of that JK Rowling. Now she’s sipping her water. Or is it gin? With a slice of … LMN. Watch out, she’s coming over.”
“O, right. Mind your Ps and Qs.”
“Morning darling. Who’s this handsome creature!’
“Sandra: this is my brother, Alf.”
“R … S, your little brother is rather dashing. Now T for 2, big brother. U will pop round this afternoon?”
He nodded. They watched her go.
“Tea is it? I reckon U might be in there … big brother!”
“Bet U a tenner. She’s been married 30 year! She wants me to give her Camper van a once over.”
“Does she now?”
“It’s an old VW.”
“On closer inspection, she reminds me of your X. Be careful, brother of mine, dirty old swine”
“Why indeed. Have your fun bro! We only live once, when all’s Z and done!”
Sunday, 29th November
Strange how one story can trigger another …
21st century man
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