Welcome again to the second series of the popular HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
Murphy’s Lore Series Two
Episode 6: Lockdown diary
Tuesday, 2 June 2020
Monday, May 18th
New road bridge
After two years of tailbacks, traffic ran smoothly through Mytholmroyd this morning. The hawthorn trees were wedding dress white from the village through to Friendly.
There’s a green brownfield site at Mayroyd, where five storey mills once sprouted. Now it’s been re-wilded by neglect. Usually the birds compete to be heard against the droning traffic on the main road, but when I wandered through this evening, a blackbird’s song filled the ears and as I sauntered back a cuckoo called from Crow Wood, clear across the valley.
I once saw an otter below Victoria Bridge on Station Road. Down river you might, these days, catch a rare glimpse of a water nymph, its singing strangely reminiscent of Marylyn Monroe’s, or even Andrea’s from down our street.
Andrea birthday video
Tuesday, May 19th
Storyteller Susanna Meese dreamt that, with an old student friend of hers, we were walking up steps at Robin Hood’s Bay and at the top we bought an ice cream from Dame Judi Dench at her cafe (acting’s her side line). Susanna says it was delicious. We’ve agreed to repeat the experience for real when this virus malarkey has died down, if Judi is still in business.
Watching a wonderful old video of William Holt and Trigger, I was delighted to see Holt’s painting of Nymphs in Todmorden. Fate seemed to be nudging me towards a theme.
PW remembers reading a novel one time in her youth when she came to an unfamiliar word. Her dad had his Daily Mirror held up to his face.
She said, “Dad, what’s a nymphomaniac?”
From behind his paper he replied, “I wish I knew, darling.”
Wednesday, May 20
In PMQs, Keir Starmer asks why the government is enforcing an NHS surcharge on migrant health workers. Boris doesn’t say this, but it’s because Dominic Cummings thinks it’s popular with voters, that’s why. This time I hope The Dominator has miscalculated. The public have seen how many BAME workers are risking their lives on the front line and we don’t forget them as we applaud each week from our doorsteps and balconies.
Paganism rears its lovely head
Inspired by Greyson’s Art club I drew a nymph!
In this small Pennine town where we live, our religion’s gone alternative. We say rivers and trees have their own deities and we worship the beauty they give …
Nymphs! (and buskers come away!)
Not many people have seen nymphs -
Except in museums on plinths -
But if they want to see um,
Outside a museum,
They should drive around here for a glimpse.
Now you know about nymphs and their mania,
From Greece to Mesopotamia,
But nymphs Anglo Saxon,
Got just as much action,
That’s why our nymphs chose to remain here.
Well, I wouldn’t tell this to reporters,
But nymphs still inhabit our waters,
I know for a fact -
On a rolling contract,
Are Nixie the nymph and her daughters.
It’s buskers they like to attract,
But each cull is done with great tact.
Our nymphs say, “You’re so cool!”
To each amplified fool,
Then wrap amp lead around t’ vocal tract …
But you don’t need to witness this ‘crime’,
Nymphs sneak through a snicket in time.
As you sip your latte,
At some riverside cafe,
They take out young men in their prime.
Some say it’s a monstrosity,
that young men’s curiosity,
at nymphs voluptuosity,
should lead to such atrocity,
but I just shake my head and shrug,
say, “Do they think about our lugs?
If amplifiers they’d unplug,
then would be Dylans and Jake Bugs
might get more generosity!”
Thursday, May 21st
I was listening to Radio 4’s The new anatomy of melancholy. The presenter came to Hebden and met a group of mums who use lullabies to soothe their crying babies. The women espoused the power of three part harmonies to relax the minds of babes in arms. I was thinking, it must be tricky getting two other mums - one of them an alto - to nip round and harmonise at 3 am, but their broadcast songs did sound very soothing. Very relaxing indeed and … in fact …
I woke up and discovered that Boris has done a U Turn. Now the NHS surcharge won’t apply to NHS migrant workers, two of whom he had credited with saving his life. The papers say it’s a victory for Keir Starmer.
In the last edition I did a riff on Dylan’s The Times they are a changing. Great minds think alike - here’s a cartoon from the latest Private Eye.
This nymph tale was collected by the Grimm brothers.
A brother and sister were playing by a well and they both fell in. A water-nix lived in the well and she carried the children off with her. The girl was made to collect water in a bucket with a hole in it. The boy was made to chop a tree down with a blunt axe. The dumplings the children were given to eat were as hard as stones. One quiet Sunday the children sneaked away, but saw the nix chasing after them with giant strides.
The girl threw a brush behind her which formed a massive hill of bristles, with thousands of spikes. The nix was forced to slow down and climb slowly over them. Then the boy threw a comb which made a great hill of combs with a thousand times a thousand teeth, but the nix managed to totter slowly across them. The the girl threw behind her a looking-glass which formed a hall of mirrors, and it was so slippery the nix could not slither across it. The children escaped, and the water nix had to return to her well again.
Friday, May 22nd
We went to Rosie’s front garden for her 7th birthday. I have to report that Belle, the new puppy, failed to recognise social distancing rules.
Breaking news: Dominic Cummings drove to Durham to leave his child in the care of his elderly parents and Labour have asked for a full explanation. On the one hand, the child’s parents were horrendously ill, but on the other, they were imperilling his parents - breaking one of the rules set out by the government and their advisers.
Saturday, May 23rd
Well, Cummings is on the TV News channels and the Guardian and Mirror lead with his escapade. The Times buries it inside, in a low key way, with a statement from No 10 saying that he didn’t break any rules. As the day goes on the No 10 team noted the lines of attack and the story is changed: he didn’t have the virus, but thought he might get it; they were assisted by his sister and her daughters - not by his aged parents.
Fifty years ago my girlfriend had a poster of Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs in her room at college. The great advantage of that room was its situation, with a window on the ground floor (eat your heart out Romeo). I was often lured in by her Rolling Stone records, such as Sympathy for the Devil.
Fishing for nymphs
Why the sirens stopped singing
Sunday, May 24th
A lowly goatherd
High on a hill, I noticed a Little billy goat - just a kid really - had got stuck in a fence and was gruffly complaining. As I tried to free him, Big billy came over to see what I was about. At which point, Middle sized billy decided to challenge Big billy to a head butting encounter.
Despite the danger to my fingers, I managed to deftly steer Little billy’s horns, and therefore his head, back through the opening. I’m pathetically annoyed that no passing walker noticed my daring deed and the goats wandered off without a backward glance.
In his press briefing the PM rattled through an explanation of why he won’t sack Dominic Cummings. Tory backbenchers have demanded his resignation, and Craig Whittaker, our usually quiescent MP, has said the aide’s position is ‘untenable’.
Monday, May 25th
Two months too late, Cummings gives his “full and frank” explanation in the Downing Street garden, which got me imagining …
Me: Kate, you know you fancy a trip to Durham to see your cousins?
PW: Yes, I could meet them one at a time in a park.
Me: Well, the thing is, I’m not feeling so good. In fact, my vision is bloody awful. I think I might have the virus!
PW: Oh god! Wait a minute, if your eyesight’s buggered, why don’t we drive to Clitheroe and back to test it out?!
PW: Hang on, let’s take Jude too!
It’s Bank Holiday, the weather is glorious and on the park scores of young people were ignoring social distancing. Many were sitting on the grass in circles tight enough to have played not just pass the parcel, but pass the virus too.
Two women told me there are dozens of people playing a ball game in the old tennis courts. One says, “Perhaps it’s the Cummings effect …”
Tuesday, May 26th
Can’t help thinking that Cummings enjoys being doorstepped by the media and protesters - he thinks it helps him to become ‘the victim’ in this tale.
I remember during the election campaign in Leeds, when the master manipulator convinced the media people on the Tory battle bus that the real story wasn’t the boy on the floor in a hospital ward, it was a Labour mob who had assaulted a Conservative staff member. Which they duly reported. Hours later, film emerged to show a single, arm waving protestor on a push bike, who accidentally clipped a passing Tory. The Dominator took the media for mugs on that and other occasions and it can’t surprise him that they’re now relishing his discomfort.
My toes are painful and swollen like miniature party balloons. I can shuffle along in sandals if I lift my toes slightly, adopting a gait not unlike that of an Emperor Penguin. This evening I recorded the amazing vocal variations of a song thrush and waddled home to show PW, who paused from watching Spring Watch, then laughed scornfully when I tried to point out the throstle fellow. I told her it was meant to be like that, for a new HebWeb competition:
Spot the bird
Wednesday, May 27th
In One Stop I noticed the Star’s rather striking front page.
A friend messages that she’s heard Cummings’ little boy is autistic - and says perhaps the Dom drove to Durham because he wanted his son to be cared for by people he knew?
But, Craig Whitaker appeared on TV and said, as long as Cummings stays in place, or the Prime Minister fails to sack him, people will feel a ‘rightful sense of injustice’ about his Durham and Barnard Castle trips. Meanwhile, no-one is paying much attention to the strategy for coming out of lock down.
Always look on the bright side, but in the gorgeous sunshine, PW can’t stop herself saying, “Just think, this is the week we would have been in Whitby.”
To cheer her up, I tell her about the writer Sybille Bedford, who said most of her affairs were with women, but her male friends were mainly effete, self absorbed poets. What she really wanted in men was someone who’d be good in bed and good in a ship wreck, and aesthetic poets were neither.
Modesty almost prevents me, dear reader, from reporting that PW muttered, “Well, at least I got one of the two.” I decided not to ask which one she meant, but then remembered that I can’t swim.
Thinking of matters watery, Angela Carter collected this remarkable Inuit tale.
A girl had a boyfriend who drowned in the sea and her parents couldn’t console her. Other suitors didn’t interest her - she must have the boy who drowned in the sea. So she took a heap of blubber and carved it into the shape of her boyfriend. She carved his face into an identical likeness. Then she rubbed the blubber against her genitals, around and around, until the blubber came to life.
Once more her young boyfriend stood before her. She presented him to her parents and her father gave permission for them to marry. They lived in a hut on the edge of the village, but sometimes it became too hot for blubber boy. Then he felt listless and said, “Rub me, rub me!”
The girl rubbed his whole body against her genitals and this revived him.
One day, blubber boy was hunting seals in the bay and the sun made him weary. As he paddled his kayak home he began to sweat. As he sweated he shrank. When he reached the shore he had shrunk to half his size. He stood on the shore and collapsed into a pile of blubber.
“Oh dear,” said the girl's parents. “He was such a nice young man.”
The girl buried blubber boy beneath a pile of rocks. Then she went into mourning. She plugged up her left nostril. She stopped eating. She stopped sewing. Each day she visited blubber boy’s grave and walked round it three times towards the sun.
After the period of mourning, she set to and carved a figure from another pile of blubber. Again, she carved it into an exact copy of her boyfriend. Then she rubbed the blubber boy around and around over her genitals until he came to life and stood before her.
He said, “Rub me again my love.”
Thursday, May 28th
PW says, “George, I heard some noises outside last night. I’ve just checked the garden and some new plants I bought are missing!”
I get her to take deep breaths and calm down, then she leads me to the scene of the crime. In the early morning sunshine, we zig zag through sweetly scented borders and then she points to a square metre of bare earth, just where I slaved in the blazing heat yesterday to pull up fistfuls of what I thought were weeds. Well, you can’t always tell till their flowers come out.
Noticing that I’m silent, PW’s face turns slowly towards me, an eyebrow arching in a rather supercilious manner. I’m tempted to exclaim, “Why, the rotten bastards!”
In her teens, PW went out with a lad who lived in her coal mining village but won a scholarship and attended the posh school in Durham, later attended by Tony Blair and - much later - by Dominic Cummings. It’s her part of the world. A year ago, we had an excursion to Barnard Castle and we think we know where the Cummings family made a pit stop to water the bluebells. That same week we bumped into Mark Henderson, a retired doctor, writer and storyteller. He’s just sent me this poster.
To celebrate the loosening of lockdown, we invited our neighbours, the Rileys round for drinks and updates with mates on the decking. Beryl, bringing her elderberry wine along, shimmered in a beautiful jacket as the sun sank. They’d been up on the moors and saw Golden Plovers.
At 8 pm, we paused for the final clap to heroes on the front line. At 9 pm, Peter led Beryl off to watch the Poet Laureate and a former Archbishop of Canterbury have a natter on iPlayer, whilst we watched another episode of Line of Duty, the one where Corbett, the undercover officer gone rogue, gets his throat cut. Each to their own!
On Newsnight, an epidemiologist says that we have a well established track and trace system in this country, based on GP reports and local heath authorities, but the government has opted for a centralised system using a private company and staffed by volunteer members of the public. It’s not expected to be fully up and running till the end of June. Why isn’t this surprising?
Friday, May 29th
Thanks to storyteller and horse lover Christine McMahon, for sharing the delightful video of William Holt and Trigger. It’s not long, but my friends have loved it. Watch here
Saturday, May 30th
Scientific advisers have gone public with their doubts about moving out of lock down at this stage. The government’s chief scientific adviser has said that the figure of 54,000 UK infections per week “urges caution”.
Meanwhile, police are reporting that hundreds of people breaching the present social distancing guidelines are saying to them, “Well, what about Dominic Cummings?!”
Sunday, May 31st
Darling daughter’s family have been under lock down. They took ill on Tuesday and got the test kit on Thursday. This afternoon a text told them they’d all tested Negative for Covid-19.
Spring has broken the record for hours of sunshine. Enjoy your outings, but please park well away from other vehicles, especially on narrow country lanes. Why not find a quieter spot? As did wild swimmer Andrea Turpin (not a nymph after all), to remind us it’s a wonderful world, even if we’re all stuck on our little bit of it for the time being.
Thanks to two of my mentors and inspirations, Pam Dimbleby and Professor Mary Krell, for their kind words on the last episode of Lockdown diaries. Also Marco Nizzardo, who is as energising as his coffee and whose pizzas are sorely missed, for comments on my performance skills and for nudging me to finally read The Divine Comedy.
Andrea Wonderful World video
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