Number Twenty-three of the regular HebWeb column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
Murphy’s Lore 23 - Tuesday 4 June 2019
In the 80s I was lead singer in The Strand. We played The Trades Club, and to get a feel for the age of the audience, I asked them where Horace Bachelor lived.
The baby boomers shouted ‘KEYNSHAM, BRISTOL!’
"How do you spell that?"
"K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M"’ they chorused, confidently - so often had they heard it advertised.
In the 50s and 60s, on Radio Luxembourg, Horace advertised his Infra Draw secrets for winning a fortune on the football pools. I remember thinking, if Horace is so clever, how come he’s still living in Keynsham, spelt K-e-y-n-s-h-a-m, Bristol?
A gentle stroll
Imagine you had a choice between helping at a pool party for twenty three 5 and 6 year olds, or or going for a relaxed walk through bluebell woods?
Let’s just suppose you chose the second option. You park your car at Widdop, avoiding the crowds and the National Trust parking fee. You’re not dressed for arduous walking - in fact, in your shopping bag you’ve brought a hefty Sunday newspaper to read.
You’re looking forward to finding the ideal spot for lolling about in a swathe of bluebells, next to a babbling stream, whilst you tut tut over the opinion columns. But after half a mile or so, the rocky path down to the riverside looks a bit perilous for your slidey, new, designed for pavement perambulation, shoes.
Fortunately, you remember there’s a parallel path, just above you. So you scramble up a promising looking furrow through the bracken and bilberry bushes. With the spirit of adventure coursing through your veins, you keep going. But then the furrow closes and you suddenly realise: you’re stuck. You look back the way you came, but you’re 20 feet up and you daren’t chance a descent in your slidey, new, not meant for climbing, shoes.
So you heave yourself up a few more feet, clinging onto vegetation which you worry might not take your weight. You check your new situation and realise that you are in fact mega stuck: the ground is just in front of your nose and you can’t see a safe way up or down. Your heart is racing. You wonder if you should ring emergency services, or send a video selfie of your predicament to your Present Wife, blissfully cocooned in the chlorinated, heartwarming safety of the kiddies’ pool party. Then, just as you think you can’t cling on any longer, inspiration strikes…
You use your fingers to scoop out tiny footholds in the peaty soil for your nice, new, not meant for mountaineering, shoes to shove into. Slowly, you scrabble up this DIY staircase (dragging the shopping bag and multi supplemented Sunday broadsheet with you). Finally, after sapping, danger filled exertion, you collapse exhausted onto the official NT waymarked footpath. It’s probably taken you 40 minutes to climb 10 metres. A family are strolling towards you. The two small kids look fascinated, but the parents are wearing their 'come away children' faces and they hasten past. You dust yourself off and walk in weary triumph the undulating mile to the cafe, hardly noticing the glorious blazes of bluebells along the way.
The cafe is full of families who have sauntered along the easy route from the carpark. You beg some wet wipes from the warden and clean the peat from your hands and nails. You, and your nice new shoes, are knackered; but, not unlike a character from Touching the Void, you feel slightly superior to the weekend strollers.
Later, returning to your car via Widdop road, you glance across to the place where your life so recently hung by a thread and are startled when you notice the easy, well worn paths a few yards either side of your precipitous, traumatic ascent.
Finally, you get back to your car, having lugged the heavy Sunday broadsheet newspaper the whole way - and realise you haven’t read a word of it.
Butter up awards
This week I got a neat trim at John the Barber’s. I used to go to John’s in the 70s and 80s, when he was in the Arts Centre on Market Street. One time, I discovered I had nowt in my wallet, so I wrote him a cheque for 50 pence. I think he framed it.
There’s a lovely short film of John, that shows him in situ, surrounded by his paintings. He was trained at Sassoon’s in London and once ran a large hairdressers in Manchester. Someone who has autism and a characteristic fear of having scissors near his neck tells me that John is always very patient.
After 50 years, there must be wear and tear on John’s hands and back. For £3.50 you can get a trim and his lowdown on art, books, music and Hebden characters past and present. So this week I award the Murphy toast - butter side up - to John the Barber.
Liz Weir MBE was performing at Shaggy Dog on Friday (with Ciaran, a mighty fine fiddler and balladeer). Afterwards, we headed off to our mates, Dave and Lin, in Shropshire. Which reminds me…
A few years back, I got the lurgy, felt dizzy and collapsed 50 yards from our house. The doctor came out and gave me some tablets to take after meals, but not being famous for listening carefully, I took this to mean after every meal, till I finished the whole packet.
That weekend Liz was MC at a festival when our very own Ursula Holden Gill got a standing ovation. I was so proud, I burst into tears. Liz asked if I was alright. I wasn’t, really.
Every emotion that weekend was exaggerated. At my mates’ house, I recited stories for Lin’s dad, Tom. But when I also tried to tell him my anecdote about my brother Percy, I couldn’t finish it. I got so far and then I kept crying with laughter. I usually pride myself on my straight face. Something was definitely up. That night I didn’t get a wink. Ok, I was on Dave and Lin’s sofa, but I just couldn’t close down.
When I got home I read the small print for the medicine - one of those folded up, smalll print notes they shove inside medicine boxes. ‘Take after meals, but only if dizziness occurs. Side effects: in the event of psychosis, contact your GP.’
My brother, Percy
The event was underlined in my desk diary: Training Day at the new Quality Assurance Agency (OFSTED for grown ups) HQ in Gloucester. Next to that memo I should also have written, TBC.
The receptionist in the glitzsy, glass ball low rise was listening to someone on her headset. I mouthed ‘QAA’ at her and she pointed to the lift. The door to the QAA boardroom was thick, but it swished open at my touch, revealing three pinstriped men who immediately looked up from their huge tomes. I cheerily breezed in and slapped my reporter’s notebook down on the blond wood table. But, as I was studiously writing the date, I realised I was the only one in the room that was not playing Statues.
Then the old feller, Sir Augustus Pinstripe, said, 'Can we help you?'
I looked at each unsmiling face and thought, "These guys aren’t trainers, sunshine. These are Enemy High Command."
Now, I could have apologised and told them it was all a mistake, blamed it on a fictional secretary and calmly allowed them to ring my Principal to establish I wasn’t sent from the Times Higher Education Supplement on an undercover assignment, but I realised that these posh knobs hadn’t the foggiest idea who I was, or where I was from. I decided I’d keep it that way.
I said, "I was just down here for a few days, so I thought I'd pop in to see how you were getting on."
Their faces showed a mixture of discomfort and narrow eyed suspicion.
"However, I can see that you are busy." I nodded to their data filled tomes. Specky Pinstripe hurriedly shut his.
I calmly put my reporter’s notepad back in my pocket, gave them a little nod and made for the door in a rapidly accelarating fashion.
I hit the stairs, but Portly Pinstripe had followed. He called out, "I hope you didn't waste your day?"
I turned and said, "No, not really. I was down here anyway… visiting my brother…Percy."
Portly Pinstripe furtively ca me down a step or two, so I started reversing.
"Oh yes? And where does Percy live?"
"Oh yes, which part?"
"Ah!" he smiled. "That's my neck of the woods."
Damn it. I should have said, ‘Keynsham… Spelt, K-E-Y -"
God, he was right on my case now. We continued our synchronized slow motion descent.
"…That’s just it," I said. "His wife’s just thrown him out!'
Amazingly, that got under his guard. For one moment, Portly Pinstripe’s face lost its turd-under-the nose-comportment and melted into something softer and more human, as he thought of the desperate plight of my wretched, homeless and totally fictitious brother.
I turned and trotted down the remaining flight, across the foyer, past the headphoned receptionist, who seemed to be waving frantically to me (I waved back), through the huge, automatic glass doors and out again into the free world.
The Stefan Kiszko case
As mentioned last week, Campbell Malone played a crucial role in overturning the wrongful conviction of Stefan Kiszko for the murder of Lesley Molseed on Rishworth Moor in 1975.
Judith Malone has written to say,"Campbell at one stage petitioned the newly appointed Home Secretary who ordered a new investigation. This time, time there was a good cop whose thorough investigation led to the discovery of forensics (available, but not disclosed at the time of the original trial) which proved that Stefan could not have been the murderer. Although they did not contain the vital information, you may be interested to know that the original police papers were discovered in an attic in Todmorden police station."
Reading again the information about the trial and retrial, 44 years after Lesley’s murder, I’m shocked that the girls who gave false witness statements (‘for a laugh’) at the original trial, never apologised for their perjuries. Neither did Sheila Buckley, mother of one of the girls, who told the press after Stefan’s conviction that Kiszko "should have been strung up."
I miss me Mrs
My friend’s dad, Tom Robson, liked this monologue about a door to door salesman. He started up a writers’ group for fellow widowers in the Chester area, and called it I Miss Me Mrs, after a phrase in The Yorkshire Don Juan, a monologue I wrote after a short trip to Liverpool.
The Yorkshire Don Juan
I left my Yorkshire home one fateful day,
For a salesman’s job on t’ streets of Liverpool.
But not long out of school,
Sales team tret me like a fool,
And had me selling, day to day,
Ladies slippers and lingerie.
I met two merchant seamen, set to sail,
And asked what did they missed most, when out at sea.
Small un says, ‘Dis ale! But sometimes, in a gale,
I miss me Mrs, and me Mrs misses me.’
Then tall un says, ‘Dat’s true that, I agree.
We’ve got girls in every port,
An’ although we don’t go short,
I miss the kisses dat me Mrs gives to me.’
So I told them that I sold from door to door,
Such items as a Mrs might be missing,
Special stuff for t’ bottom drawer,
But sometimes they wanted more,
An’ I really made them listen
When I started reminiscing
‘Bout this Mrs I’d been kissin’.
She’s a right big lass that lives on Daisy Street.
She wears size 10 slippers
An’ those slippers are right full of feet.
In a flannelette nightie, she looks like Aphrodite.
An’ when that big Mrs kisses,
I really know what bliss is.’
But t’ small seaman started to repeat,
‘She wears size 10 slippers
An’ she lives down Daisy Street?
She gets flighty
In a well upholstered nightie?
Dat’s my Mrs giving kisses in dem slippers,
An’ dat nightie was a treat.’
Atmosphere in t’ Mermaid Inn grew tense,
I said, ‘Ooh, that’s a coincidence…’
(To find out what happened next, pop along to The Bookcase on Market Street and ask for Hippy Valley, a secret history, (2018), Fantastic Books Publishers)
If you would like to send a message about this piece or suggest ideas, email George Murphy