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Third series, episode 32

All 124 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In episode 32, there's highs and lows, the Gallows Pole, getting heads on beds, Polly Price and Uncle Liam, injustice and mistrials, readers letters and Fiery Jack!

Series 3, Episode 32

Time to cast a clout

May is out

Descent from Dodnaze!

Setting off in search of ramsons in Mayroyd Wood, it seemed too rocky and dry, guessing that wild garlic flourishes in dank, moist places. But marching up the extensive sequences of stone steps and wooden stairs that kind volunteers must have laid, I eventually stepped out onto sunny, south facing fields, and felt lured upwards towards a familiar row of postwar prefabricated houses with panoramic views. Once there, I took a few photos, before realising that down in the valley it was nearly time for me to make the tea.

So I began walking stiffly down Wadsworth Lane, and on to Birchcliffe, clinging to railings and walls as if imperilled at every step, remembering a warning in the 1959 Disney film, Third Man on the Mountain, when the chisel faced leader, after failing to reach the summit of the Matterhorn, reminded his support team that descents are far more dangerous than climbs. All too true. Chisel face never returned to his chalet in the valley. But I just made it back to my pad.

A fall on the Fell

Dr Google affords us helpful advice on the art of going downhill: "After first loosening up the limbs with a spot of limbo dancing, the best tactic is to go for speed. Be warned, applying your brakes as gravity pulls you downhill only damages your knees. Giant, unhesitating bounds are better. In fact, ramblers stop your rambling, learn from fell runners!"

Indeed, good fell runners have always been renowned for their sprightly descents. It was said of Ernest Dalzell, a gamekeeper from Keswick, "He could leap down a fell with the speed of a Helvellyn fox and the sure-footedness of a Martindale deer. He won the Burnsall Fell Race seven times, and in 1913 set a record time that wasn't beaten for 67 years. In the Lake District, he was victorious on six occasions at the Grasmere race, until death caught up with him in the trenches.

Now, I wasn't quite without courage in my younger days. In road races I leaned forward on downhill sections and often sped past more cautious plodders. On the fells, however, my knee caps had a habit of springing unexpectedly out of their sockets, before taking up residence round the corner from their usual location. So, I gave up fell racing for a lark.

One particular lark, in fact, hovering in my memory from five decades ago above Midgley moor.

After racing up Wadsworth bank to Heights Road, I was fifth over the stile, when my patella popped out on Wicken hill, and I toppled down into a hollow, laughing at my own fate. It was hollow laughter. I waved on panting runners who sportingly enquired if I needed assistance until the unfit, the aged and the least athletic had plodded past, then I lay back at last and noticed the tiny bird which had risen almost directly above me and was pouring out its song.

Five decades before my pratfall, Ted Hughes's uncle lay injured in a bomb crater in France and to keep his spirits up he imagined he was lolling on Midgley moor and recalled the hills around these parts. Then he roamed in his mind down past Ewood and Redacre, up to Shackleton, down through Midgehole and up again to Slack, then over Widdop way, perhaps as far as The Packhorse.

Once the other runners had shrunk out of sight, I tentatively straightened my leg, which actually did the trick because my knee niftily capped itself again. I stumbled off the moor onto Heights Road and walked a furlong along the road to my home at Foster Clough, where I phoned to reassure the race organisers down in Mytholmroyd that I was in one piece, then had long soak in a bubble bath, before watching the Borg, McEnroe final at Wimbledon.

The Gallows Pole

With Ben Myers saying, "Shane takes the novel off in a different direction," and Meadow's own explanation that the new TV series will be "a prequel to Ben's novel," I'm expecting an examination of why the Cragg Vale Coiners gained such great support from the people of these valleys.

That support was evidenced even after King David was strung from the gallows pole, by the locals' disciplined revolt against starvation caused by the forcing up of grain prices. That act of seizing and distributing grain at its former price was led by Tom Spencer, Grace Hartley's brother. In the wider reckoning, this was the era of the death of cottage industry, enclosures of land and the birth of the world's first industrial revolution. This was England.

Wrongly accused

On CBS, I watched the first of a double episode documentary about Stefan Kiszko's wrongful conviction for the murder of child victim Lesley Molseed.

David Waddington, Stefan's defence lawyer, was the Tory son of a mill owner in Burnley. As a Chief Whip, he bragged of being a hanger and flogger. Having lost his parliamentary seat, the QC then took up his former employment as a barrister.

The police had questioned Stefan, a lumbering, vulnerable man for three days without the presence of his mother or a lawyer and they wrote the false confession he finally signed. In court, Waddington refused to use a forensic scientist's evidence to prove that his client could not have been the murderer. Neither did he cross examine two teenage witnesses. Even while defending his client, the QC offered the prospect of the defendant pleading guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

Next week's episode features the campaigning Todmorden solicitor Campbell Malone, whose efforts were key to gaining Stefan Kiszko's release after sixteen years imprisonment, despite a delay of over a year in allowing an inquiry due to the new Home Secretary David Waddington QC dragging his feet. And forensic evidence eventually revealed the identity of the real killer.


Bex Wilson has co-founded a charity to provide beds for poor children in Leeds, after one of her primary school pupils told her, "I'm always tired Miss, I don't have a bed." He slept on a bean bag on the floor with his brother and sister and his stomach wasn't full of beans but covered with bed bug bites. The only piece of furniture Bex discovered in his house was a white plastic chair and a single working light bulb.

Recent research has shown there are 5000 children in Leeds living without beds. It's not a new issue. When my wife worked for special needs support services in Rochdale, shortage of beds was a frequent topic of discussion with other child support agency managers.

Back in the 1950s, my sisters took turns sharing their beds with me until they reached a certain age. Then I got a bunk bed and moved into the box room. But how luxurious do our circumstances seem then when compared with the plight of thousands of children these days?

Polly Price

Aged 8, I learnt to read and went up from Miss Pugh's 2B to Polly Price's 3A class. Polly didn't smack, she sneered. She'd stop the class and called me out to the front. She said, "You could grow potatoes behind those ears." She wanted the class to laugh and dislike me and for me to blub, but knowing her game, I looked directly back into her eyes till she gave in.

I was sent to the wash basins to scrub my mush and neck, and enjoyed the rare pleasure of washing with hot water and soap. But recently a girl had ridden past me on a bike and told me that my head was a funny shape. Which I denied, but her comment had wormed itself into my brain. Leaning my face over to one side, I could see what she meant. In the mirror, it looked like my cheeks were about to slide off into the sink. So I shook them hard to see if they were firmly attached, splattering soap across the mirror as I got up to speed. Then I saw Polly looking thunderous behind me.

On the way to the wake

Uncle Liam, who was on the fringes of the family but came over from Wexford anyway, finding there was nowhere else to sit on the coach sat down next to young Samuel, the one he'd been warned about.

"Don't get him started, you'll never shut him up," they said, gently laughing.

Well, he didn't pay much attention to that, it was those that said it were often the boring ones.

"What's that you're reading, son?"

Sammy turned his phone towards him.

"Strange but True - is it ghost stories you like then?"

"Science," he muttered.

"Science is it? What's that bit your reading?"

"If you unwound your DNA it would stretch up to Pluto and back 17 times!" Not sure I'd agree to that myself now, it sounds painful. Can you read that smaller text there.'

Sammy tried to keep his voice quiet, not wanting the other dark clothed adults to hear. "There are eight times more atoms in a spoonful of water than in all the water in the Atlantic Ocean!"

"That's strange all right … but do they specify whether they were measuring with teaspoons or tablespoons? I think we should know."

Sammy was a bit flawed by this uncle he didn't know. But he read out another fact. "Solid objects are full of holes. They only solidify if you touch them."

"Now that is strange, right enough. So, let me think now, if the atoms didn't get their act together we'd fall through onto the tarmac!"

"Except we're full of holes too!"

"Well now, you're the sharp one. I hope they know that in your school."

Encouraged, Sammy read "News update: Human hair found in ancient cave systems in Spain show traces of hall … hallucinogens."

Well, this business with drugs goes back a long way then … and not just in this hippy trippy town then? Liam thought to himself.

"Here, do you mind if I give you a hug little feller? I'm thinking I could be doing with one myself."

It was a careful, shy sort of hug, but just firm enough for comfort. He'd seen Sammy file past his big brother lying there in the open coffin not long ago. They'd done a good job on him considering the height of his fall. The sun was shining on their side of the coach. Across the way the hills were a moving film of loveliness and the May was out all along the way. It didn't seem right to be sweltering in black suits.

Liam's own curse was the black stuff, which is why Sammy's family were nervous of him. But he'd sing a song for them in the upstairs room at the pub before the night was out. Sure, they wouldn't be minding that now? He'd thrown soil into the open grave back down the road, clammy black stuff it was, splatting onto the coffin lid as if he was attacking the young guy for hurting his family so. That vicar was lying to himself and the mourners about where that kid was going next, couldn't he see it in his eyes? Back home they once wouldn't bury the suicides in holy ground. So many families grieving so long in shame and silence back then.

PW telling me to lighten the mood, I chose this tale adapted from a true story we were told in the 80s by a chap in Cottonstones. (Fiery Jack)

Readers write:

The HebWeb Interview With John Pickering

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