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Third series, episode 29

All 121 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In the latest episode of Murphy's Lore, there's Good Friday Pace Egging and skipping, a catalogue of gaffes, merkins and muffs, an MBE and a change of MC, readers writing, the people's game, poetry and bands and capable hands.

Pace Egging

The Good Friday Pace Egg Play in George's Square was performed to large crowds. 'Pace' derives from Passover, and the script, which is said to derive from ancient mummers plays, was passed down through generations and brought back to life by staff and pupils at Midgley Primary School in 1972. By the late 70s, when we watched it, Calder High School students had taken over the mock slaying of Bold Slasher by St George.

The Midgley performances took place in the bus turning circle opposite the old Shoulder of Mutton. Since 1979 the play has also been presented in the spectacular setting of Weavers Square in Heptonstall. Originally, decorated eggs were given to pace eggers and children, to be eaten at breakfast time on Easter Sunday.

Good Friday Skipping

English Heritage are hoping to revive the tradition of Good Friday Skipping, which was captured in this photograph from Alciston, East Sussex as recently as 1952. Although the custom was common to many parts of England, after World War 2 it became associated with fishing communities in Sussex, including Brighton.

Elsewhere, long line skipping by girls remained a custom in primary school playgrounds and in the streets where I grew up, when mums would sometimes join in. I remember sunny days when lads would stop our football games and watch the girls skipping whilst chanting their rhymes ancient and modern. Then, wonder of wonders, the younger housewives of the street would appear, tucking in their skirts before joining in with the girls.

(See Readers Write, for further recollections)

Comedy of errors

Here's a few from the last week or two …

At a cafe, enjoyed soup and cappuccino. Paid by card. Put £1.50 tip into attractively decorated glass on counter. This surprised proprietor. Glass contained drink she'd been enjoying.

PW bought shiny, conjoined, twin recycling and waste bins, operated by foot pedals. In her absence, disposed half contents of plastic container of food waste into plastics receptacle. Realising error, stamped food waste pedal. Waste bin lid flew up, flipping container from grasp. Remaining food waste disgorged across kitchen floor.

Asked Alexa to play Claire de Lune by Claude Debussy. No response.
Raised voice slightly and repeated request. Again ignored.

Commanded Alexa to obey in no uncertain manner. Silence. Wondered again why I should be the one so cruelly spurned by this brave new world of artificial intelligence.

Then PW looked up from her phone and said, `We moved Alexa upstairs, remember?'

What's in a name?

At the Trades Club Open Mic Night, MC Sarah Courtney being busy in a council meeting, dynamic sub Kirsty Newton stepped in. (See photo right). I went on early, applauded onto stage and back to Calder Valley Poets table in ego expanding manner, after reciting pathos laden monologue entitled My Neighbour Came Back as a Slug and singing catchy Sex Education ditty The Birds and the Bees. The most striking costume prize went to H, who could have contributed to the new Naked Education programme on Channel 4, with her poem detailing reappraisal of changing fashions in women's body hair. Theresa, the third of our trio included a £500 award winning piece about men living in cages in Hong Kong in her set and a satire on Big Dog Boris (remember him?).

During a short break in the entertainment, Theresa referred to H's pudenda rhyme and suggested our trio should change its name to The Merkins. H (pictured right) was quite keen, but I objected. Murphy and the Merkins was offered, but I preferred The Offcumdens as a more inclusive title. I also did not share with them my memory of a precious and innocent occasion that, despite the din of the next band's sound check, suddenly came to mind from 60 years ago, of a cold walk home from school in Ellesmere Port, when golden haired Delia Goldberg said I could warm my fingers in her muff.

Reincarnation is making a comeback

Or perhaps it never went away. Most religions cling to a belief in life after death, especially if you accept their version of that unprovable belief.

Folktales old and new have no copywrite, so here's a tale I've heard retold by Paul Degnan of Old Town.

The People's game

Ben and Len had always been football crazy, since the occasion in 1958 when the plane carrying the Busby Babes crash landed in Munich. Spectating at Old Trafford became a fortnightly event from the time they could save up enough money from their paper rounds to afford the entrance fee. But most of all they loved to play soccer in the playground and at the local park. Len was always a decent player and when older kids took turns to pick teams, he'd be one of their first selections. Ben wasn't as gifted, but he managed to get picked because he volunteered to play in goal.

70 years later, Ben, a lifelong smoker, developed late stage lung cancer. Len visited him on a regular basis and the pair of them, between Ben's hacking coughs, would even laugh and wonder if Ben would be able to play in goal when he got to heaven.

When the inevitable happened, Ben's wife asked Len to make a speech at Ben's memorial service in which he jokingly told the congregation of Ben's desire to play between the sticks again if he got through the pearly gates.

The following day, Len got a message on his smartphone. He recognised the voice right away. It was Ben.

"Hey mate, thought I'd tell you what it's like in heaven. Do you want the good news first or the bad news?"

"Er… the good news."

"It's great up here, we can play soccer whenever we like!"

"Brilliant! So, what's the bad news?"

"Your names on the team sheet for Tuesday."

Shaggy Dog

It's been said that Chaucer rarely wrote a new tale but refashioned old ones, which is largely true of the sharers of folk tales. At Stubbing Wharf we were joined by Liz Weir MBE, who'd flown across the water from Northern Ireland. Liz told tales to both communities during the troubles. But has been active on the folktale scene before and after those times of terror.

Tellers often explain that Ireland kept its folklore, but we got the Industrial Revolution, whilst losing many of our ancient songs and tales along the way. As a tribute to Liz, Rod Dimbleby, of the Yorkshire Dialect Society, told an old Irish tale of a magical tree.

Photo: Liz Weir

Worth watching

Amongst other enjoyments (especially football in my case): Blue Lights (BBC 1 and iPlayer), featuring the Northern Ireland police force. Loyalist paramilitaries remain armed and active, and it features a republican drugs gang; Succession, (Sky Atlantic/HBO) the final series; Wild Isles, (BBC 1) with David Attenborough (although PW wanted more footage of sea horses).

Finally, don't miss Becoming Frida (BBC 2).

I'm reading

Chaucer, (2005) by Peter Ackroyd. Five stars so far from me. I'm also rereading The Isles (2000) by Norman Davies, which turns the history of these isles on its head. And there's refugees, brass bands and time passing in Peter Riley's last collection, Proof (2023, Shearsman Books),

"look up, look down, I never
saw so much darkness, alone
on that road, no one can walk it for you."

Readers write

I saw this on social media and was hooked, from a woman who once sold us a house on Foster Clough.

Capable hands, by Glenda George …

In 1982, I was waiting patiently outside Safeways for my father who had promised to give me a lift home with my weekly shop. It was 6.30pm and the streets were crawling with shoppers and work-leavers and the last straggle of schoolkids who had meandered home via the coffee shops.

One of these passing strangers, a short but stocky and muscular man, stopped short as he passed and came and stood close. His first words to me were "See these `ands? "… holding them close to my face, fists clenched – "These 'ands could crush you … but don't worry they won't, though they've got me in plenty trouble." He sidled a little closer.

Proceeded to tell me that he had to avoid trouble because he'd only been out of trouble for a couple weeks. "Gotta keep me urges under control, for I could rape you … but I won't cos you're too beautiful." He looked around to see who was listening.

"Oops, better not let me girlfriend hear that. She'll be along in a minute. I was in for GBH but kept me nose clean. Did weightliftin', no, POWER liftin."

He proceeded to squat down and mimed lifting an exceedingly heavy bar. I had no doubt he had done the real thing for his stance was correct, his breathing in synchronisation; bend down, back straight, feel the bar across the shoulders, grasp correctly, breathe in deeply, the breathe out, pushing up explosively, using the breath, using the breath through the thighs and straightening up the back and arms, holding the imaginary bar and weights high.

The man then relaxed, rubbed his palms, took a small bottle from his pocket and swigged; offered me the bottle, taking care to wipe the neck beforehand. I declined. A woman staggered up and threw her arm round his neck. The stench of alcohol was high and they shared the bottle for a few moments. He didn't introduce us but they began to walk away. His parting comment? "Now you look after yourself darlin'. You have any trouble with men, come lookin' for me and I'll sort them out." And they were gone.

Several years later I wrote this … because it seemed to me that he honestly thought he was being friendly rather than threatening, protective rather than dangerous. It threw a light on how difficult real communication between human beings actually is.

Capable hands

See these hands
these hands could crush
you if they wanted to

yet dead for earnest desire
for frivolity
rushing up to me or you and begging
aid or comfort capable hands close
round this throat for you will be
the last to extract such a promise of

i swear by my capable hands that all shall slip
when i let go

Line skipping (continued)

Jill Robinson from just down the valley, wrote, "Skipping was the favourite playtime occupation in Tiverton. 'When I call your birthday, please jump in.' So you could end up with lots of girls skipping together with the long rope. 'All in together girls, such fine weather girls.' It was almost always girls who skipped at my school but very occasionally a boy would join in.'

Anna Robinson from Haworth way responded to Jill. "I remember skipping to, 'On a mountain lives a lady who she is I do not know. All she wants is gold and silver, All she wants is a nice young man. So call in my sister dear' (entry point for next skipper). Can't remember next lines, but think it might have got faster … I think I was about 8, so 1969."

Joyce Bragg originally from Harrogate, now resident in Todmorden, found more lines to add to Anna's remembered verse, "So come in dear Lindy, dear Lindy, dear Lindy (Lindy comes in to skip with Rosie), So come in dear Lindy and I'll go out to play." (Rosie goes out the door).'

Christina Longden of Kirklees, commented in a way that Facebook did not deem relevant (but I did). "I hated skipping and most of the girls who did it in our school yard. There was a mean pecking order if you weren't sporty when it came to elastic skipping. I also remember that – as with clapping games – some of the rhymes were racist. I just sat in a corner and read. Fewer accidents that way."

Wuthering James from Haworth on boys … "if the boys ever got involved it was to twirl the rope … if it was street skipping it was always a washing line. Rhymes over this side of the hill was …'One potato, two potato' etc. Mind you, that rhyme might also have been used for other activities."

Sarah Burgess, from over that way, "Just looked it up: 'Mum's in the kitchen, doing a bit of stitching when in came a bogeyman and pushed her out.' …Someone comes in to be the next 'mother' and the skipper exits. Some boys would try to run through it, but if any stayed the girls would love it. Very gender divided in my neck of the wood …"

Glenda George originally from down London way, now up in Scotland, was frustrated that she couldn't remember the old rhymes, so I reminded her to check in the Opie books. "Sheesh, I had even forgotten I have the Opie's book!"

Thanks to all the above and my other readers. Easter Monday, April 2023.

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