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Third series, episode 27

All 119 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

The latest episode of Murphy's Lore asks, Is reincarnation making a comeback? There's a massacre in the brassica, final proof of a poetic talent, a saline solution to slugs, soccer defiance through the ages, rebel girls, a teacher turnover and more!

Bottoms up

A nine year old told me with amazed amusement about her maths teacher who puts sums on the white board before doing a head stand. Which is classy, not least because the pupils, I'm informed, contentedly get on with their sums whilst Miss remains in her bottoms up meditative pose.

3:50 Lee Mount Juniors

When I taught in a junior school back in the 70s, I occasionally devised amusements for kids at the end of the school day. One was to sit on an invisible chair, back pressed against the classroom wall, thighs horizontal, as an endurance test. The shortest, lightest, girl lasted longest.

Afterwards, I mentioned this challenge to the PE specialist, and was surprised by his laconic response.

"Yeah, they used that in the army during the war. It was a form of torture.

The north wind doth blow

After heavy overnight snow, brilliant, warm sunshine followed. Some shopkeepers and café proprietors who live on the tops couldn't make it down to the valley. Neither newspapers nor visitors arrived. Down here we basked in the snow, the elbow room and the free solar heating. In the park, three smiling Japanese kids made snowmen. They wished me a good day, which I certainly had, despite musing on the life cycle of slugs.

Wild gardening

One of the common slugs in our garden is Sowerby's Keeled slug. We lived in the Sowerby area in the 80s, so they may have followed us up the valley.

The makers of the new David Attenborough series on the British Isles have reminded us that some of the most remarkable natural wonders happen right beneath our feet, including a courtship ritual between slugs with penises the length of their bodies. I presume the ritual also involves a female participant at some point, but the press release doesn't say.

Sixty years ago, someone in our extended family admitted he ate slugs as a kid, which I can't help remembering whenever we meet. I wouldn't fancy eating a slug, to be honest, although badgers and hedgehogs swear by them.

The most ubiquitous slug round here, is identified by the John Innes Centre as the Large Red, although confusingly its colouration can differ. It has a mucus which they describe as thick, sticky and colourless. I would point out, however, that the mucus trail shines like silver in bright sunshine. If you kill one slug, you may find that its remains are helpfully hoovered up by its fellow slugs. These slugs aren't shy in their sexual practices and can sometimes be seen hanging from garden furniture in a twirling, slow motion, sexual embrace.

I suspect it's the skinnier, more tenacious slugs that climb up our three storey mill, for a nibble on our balcony plants, so their sense of smell must be as remarkable as their stickability.

Reincarnation and us

A belief in the survival of the soul after death was quite common amongst the new age hippies who migrated to these parts in the 1970s. Invariably, when I chatted to believers back then, they said they sometimes had flashbacks from previous lives as Pharaohs, kings, queens and James Deans.

Some believers suggested, however, that we might return in animal form. I said I quite fancied being a golden eagle myself, but was warned that those who led unenlightened lives as humans might not be so elevated on their return.

Our neighbour came back as a slug

Reincarnation's making a comeback.
You might return as a whale or a bug,
Most hope they'll come back as a human,
But our neighbour came back a slug.

When we moved in next door to Maeve and Keith,
It didn't take us long to discover,
That they had a love hate relationship.
Yes, they both loved to hate one another.

Now, Maeve weren't renowned for sobriety,
And booze and accidents go hand in glove,
But after she fell down their garden well,
People asked, `Did Keith give her a shove?'

He took in a London offcumden,
Who told us secrets of Keith's final fling.
In a tantric sex bout, as his heart gave out,
He said, 'Oh death! This didn't happen to Sting!''

*         *        *

In our garden, t' following summer,
Acting in defence of our brassica,
I wor sprinkling slugs wit' table salt
And our path worra scene of a massacre.

But one slug survived my offensive,
And in spite of a lack of false teeth,
Although it might seem odd, that gastropod,
Wor an absolute dead ringer for Keith.

So, hoping to hear his little slug voice,
I crouched down a bit closer to t' ground.
And twiddling t' knob on my hearing aid,
I distinctly heard him say, 'It's your round.'

He said, 'I'm not a slug, I'm just sluggish.
And I think beer is t' best way to go.
Be of good cheer, bring a saucer of beer,
Because my life as a slug is too slow.'

I wor thinking … 'Wor it really my round?'
When I noticed, on our crazy paving,
Wor a hedgehog that had a look of Maeve,
And what's more, that hedgehog wor waving.

I got thinking. Would it hold up in court,
If those two gave me sole use of their shed?
But before I could ask, Maeve had legged past,
And proceeded to bite off Keith's head.

*         *        *

I told my wife I'd seen our old neighbours,
But metamorphosis is difficult to grasp.
She said, `And I wor once Cleopatra.'
And I thought, `Huh. Cleopatra my asp!'

I want to fly away

After the invigorating snow and sunshine last week, it looks as if we're in for dour, damp, overcast weather for the next week or so. After missing out on a special break to celebrate my 70th, we were hoping to have a series of escapes this year, but PW is waiting for her shingles to relent and an operation to be arranged. I was hoping to encourage her to take flight with me but she's been put off by airports and the strain of taking a plane. This week I picked up on a tweet that's 'gone viral' from a woman who recently took a flight from Manchester.

"There's a woman on this plane doing the full-influencer-flying-long-haul thing. Extensive loungewear co-ords, hydrating facial spritz, cashmere travel blanket, massive headphones, the lot. Which is fine … But we are only flying to the Isle of Man."

Rebel Girls

Lagging behind many readers of HebWeb, I've just enjoyed reading Rebel Girls (2006) the history of sometimes forgotten women of the Votes for Women campaigns. The front cover shows 16 year old, 'baby suffragette,' Dora Thewlis, who rose to fame on the front pages of the tabloid press. As did the militant young dancer, Lilian Lenton, who set fire to buildings and used clever disguises to escape recapture during the period of the infamous Cat and Mouse acts.

Jill Liddington writes with understanding about the militant suffragettes, but she sympathised with the reluctance of more mainstream militant suffragists who were reluctant to use violence, arguing, 'window-smashing and violence and arson could hit ordinary by-standers.' These tactics also allowed the Asquith government to divert attention away from the political struggle onto a law and order issue.

See The HebWeb Interview with Jill Liddington, who is launching her new book, featuring further revelations drawn from the diaries of the remarkable Anne Lister.

Interior Design Master

I'm reminded of this series whenever I sit in the first café in the square and gaze up at the daft as short planks laths of wood on the ceiling, after the café was featured in the final a few years back. In the first episode of the new series the star was a New York interior designer who reacted to make-overs by exclaiming,

"This is harshing my mellow."

He was most comfortable when features were 'flumpy and delicious.'

We're also watching …

The thrilling dystopian series, The last of us, not least for its surprising sidesteps away from the main plot to show suppressed relationships which would have been possible in normal times, thus reminding us of the precious, extraordinary richness of what we call normal. It stars the remarkable English actress, 19 year old Bella Ramsey, last seen fighting to the death as a child ruler in Game of Thrones.

Gary Lineker, David Parker and me

photograph colour enhanced by Marco Nizzardo

Here's another story of solidarity defeating the dark forces of oppression.

Mr Gilbert, the headteacher at my junior school, announced a new rule. Football would be banned from the playground before the start of the school day!

One morning, a few days later, I had a kick about with David Parker before 9 am. This must have been observed from the staffroom above us and the informer passed a message to the Head.

In his cosy, firelit office, Gilbo said we could choose to have the whack if we wanted to carry on playing football. He gave us 24 hours to think about it. When we chose the whack, his tiny secretary laughed, amused by our defiance.

We got 6 whacks each on our backsides with a leather tawse. But at least the rule was rescinded. We celebrated by having a photo taken in David's garden.

Gary Lineker and his fellow sports commentators have won their fight for free speech. The corporation was in an untenable position, having allowed high profile employees to appear on right wing platforms and write in newspaper columns in favour of government policies.

In reference to the 30s, I was proud to discover that Stan Cullis from my home town refused to give a Nazi salute when England played Germany in 1938, and was dropped from the team. I wonder, a few years later, how many of the squad and their FA bosses were ashamed of their compliance on that day?

Proof, by Peter Riley

I'm told these 27 short poems comprise the final collection from a much lauded local writer, who has recently stepped down as Poetry Editor at The Fortnightly Review. To discover more about Peter, see The HebWeb interview I did with him, or the Frank Skinner poetry blog.

Themes of refugees, birdsong, the future of the planet and mortality recur.

Here's a poem …

Remembering a childhood passed
in grey streets populated by shades.
A shade sells you vegetables, a shade
brings bottles of milk to your doorstep.
A shade dictates mental arithmetic, a shade
works a sausage machine, a shade drills your teeth.
A shade prays. The light passes through them,
they don't cast shadows and mirrors don't reflect them.
A group of shades on the other side of the road
stops and calls me and asks what's my name, what
am I doing here who look so fresh and substantial
and when I shall be on my way.
(p 19, from Proof, 2023, Shearsman Books)

Readers wrote

Thanks to all the kind people who responded with informed suggestions for coping with erratic sleeping patterns. I'm going to sleep on it, but I hope to respond to your comments, and to recent research findings, next time.

I also read …

Cycling in Search of the Cathars,(2022) by Elaine Connell and Chris Ratcliffe, which is now in its third edition, which I promised to write about in this episode, but life and a deadline got in the way. Also, I was fascinated by some of the themes the cycling diarists researched as they put in the hard miles, and I'm still planning my response.

Murphy's Lore, the book, is available to order here

If you would like to send a message about this piece or suggest ideas, email George Murphy

More Murphy's Lore

See the Murphy's Lore home page for all 119 episodes.