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Third series, episode 34

All 126 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In Episode 34 there's Vox pop on a pole; a trip to a theatre, tonsils and a saint, a serial loser and a man manning up, Heptonstall for all seasons, fathers and brass - and readers who wrote.

Now you're talking

Three times during a short stroll walkers asked what I thought of The Gallows Pole. Although most newspaper reviews have been five starred, social media opinion round here is divided. Some Ben Myers fans expected the novel to be faithfully followed. But my vox poppers - a poet, a former student of mine and a campervan man from down south - loved the acting, the humour and Shane Meadows's redressing of costume drama.

As for me, I love the quality and naturalness of the acting. Without skilled acting, some by newcomers, the richness of language that's not all scripted, its originality, wit and surprise, that sometimes delights us in our everyday talk, can't be ignited into life when filmed or staged. So I'm a big fan, but I want more.

These three episodes were a prequel to a novel. But they also foreshadowed a revolution in industry, in regimentation of labour and desecration of nature. So this telly tale should not end with laughter. And three episodes of a series called The Gallows Pole that includes The Stranglers but not the hangers, suggests there might be more to follow. I hope.

Theatre trip

We travelled to the hospital in dread, but fortunately we found it quite easy to find a parking space.

PW couldn't eat after 7am, so she'd grabbed some toast at 6.30. She arrived with her overnight bag but was told she might be able to go straight home after her op. So I hung around in Reception, read the papers and did the quick crosswords. Slowly.

The café was a Starbucks, or perhaps not, my memory not being what it was. Anyway, it was part of one of those chains. There were no cooked or healthy food options available, but to give them their due, each polite caffeine dealer had a smiling and sincere expression, which slightly rubbed off on anxious visitors like me.

I asked if the café had been locked down during lockdown, and the lass who took my order said, "We stayed open right through." When she looked embarrassed about feeling proud, I asked her for a cappuccino and Chocolate Twist. Then we smiled, and got on with our days.

Outside, the sun was spoiling to get too hot, so I found a shady table in a corner of a dining courtyard bedecked with sturdy potted plants. Soon after, a banter of nurses spilled out on their break, gathering around the sunlit tables, and reminding me of reviews in Sunday's culture sections of two books about the importance of medical staff from the Commonwealth in the history of the NHS, and also the racism they had endured.

"Ping!" PW texted, "Op at 11.50!"

Bloody hell.

I went back inside. Most hospitals have daytime TV programmes to entertain visitors, such as One foot in the Grave, but here there was only a donated piano which middle sized tots were taking turns to jab at in the vain hope that the keys might magically unlock a tune. So I decided to pop out in search of the city.

I was just back at the hospital entrance when `Ping!' made me jump. "Theatre at 4.30."

It didn't make sense to drive back home again before returning into the early rush hour traffic, so I stayed. I should have brought a book. I was just thinking I might seek out a different gents toilet than the one I'd been frequenting, just for the buzz, when the phone pinged again.

"Getting ready for op at 6."

The op involved Kate being divested of part of her body she had never actually seen, but the medics reckoned she was better without. And while they were at it, the team would dispose of a neighbouring lump the size of a toddler's fist, despite it being a benign lump as far as lumps go. Anyway, she didn't feel that attached to either bit of her innards, and an hour and a half later she wasn't.

At 8 o'clock, I went up to claim my missing Mrs. The distorted voice on the intercom told me that visiting time was over, but I said I wasn't visiting, I was removing.

Kathleen, as the intercom called her, was in the post op, but I couldn't take her away for another two hours. However, I could come in and keep her company. So I pushed the door open and tracked her down. For a while, PW's expression was more like McMurphy's than Mrs Murphy's. She held my hand lightly and muttered so quietly that I had to tilt my head towards her lips.

"PH, you should have gone home and come back later … You've wasted your entire day … All the staff here have been lovely … including the cleaners … except maybe the new guy … his English is more staccato and I can't always hear him … his bedside manner's more abrupt."

When night shift man appeared he checked 'Kathleen's' breathing and blood pressure. Once he'd finished, I mentioned that my wife hadn't eaten all day. So he took some change off me and disappeared round the corner before returning with a white bread, ham and cheese sandwich, in one of those triangular sealed plastic containers. PW signed some forms and then he told us we could go. Most of the sandwich ended up in the bin.

We got home at eleven.

Northern Life

According to some magazines it's all going on in Upper Calder.

Tonsils and St Nic

Whilst at the hospital PW had with her Unwell Women (2022) by Elinor Cleghorn, A journey through medicine and myth in a manmade world. She's stayed in hospital a few times over the years, what with giving birth twice and also when the kids were kept in overnight for some passing ailment. Each time with the kids she slept in a chair in their room.

The only time I had a hospital stay was back in the 50s. I knew most of the kids in my ward. I had ice cream when I came round from my op. And they let us stay overnight. Next morning I left into the thin Ellesmere Port sunshine minus both my tonsils and my belief in Father Christmas, after a word to the wise from a less romantic kid than me.

My older sister Kath should perhaps have had her tonsils out instead of me. She'd been having a succession of sore throats, whilst I was in rude health. The local GPs were doing a cull of tonsils just then in the Port, but only one child per family could qualify for this generous offer. He suggested mom could listen out for which one of us snored the loudest and then get back to him. I won. Because of the delay, when sister Kath eventually had her tonsils out it was a bigger, more painful operation than the one I had.

I remember this sometimes, when PW elbows me in the back and tells me to roll over, I'm snoring in her ear.

Serial loser

One Saturday lunchtime at the Hermit, I finished my drink, checked my gear and, failing to find my phone, warned the proprietor before tumbling the contents of my man bag out onto the table. This was my new strategy: finding my things as soon as they went missing. But when I slid into the Rohan jacket PW had bought me I felt a phone sized weight in its inside pocket. Oh frabjous day! I must have put it there out of habit, despite Kate telling me not to.

"Pockets that are baggy soon become saggy. Get used to using your bag, like women do."

Later at Jack the barber's I went through all my things, but couldn't find my wallet. Jude and Jack calmed me down and persuaded me to retrace where I'd been that morning. Well, one place I'd been was the Town Hall gents. That's where I must have lost it! But the Hermit was nearer, so I tried there first.

When I walked into the new café with its delightful interior, the proprietor smiled and waved my wallet above her head in one hand and a pair of reading glasses I didn't know I'd lost in the other. I must have toppled them out onto the table and didn't collect them again, such was my relief at finding my phone.

Now customers as well as proprietors seemed to be waiting for a pronouncement.

"Ok!" I said. "I lost those two items, but I tracked down my phone. Let's call it 2 – 1."

When you've got ADHD you might as well admit that you'll lose things sometimes or you won't get through the week. These people were nice, but some think this apparent laugh it off attitude is a sign I don't give a damn. Actually, it's not that. It's more that I feel damned, but don't like to let on.

Post op, PW can't lift anything heavier than a cuppa, and can't drive for weeks. So I've stepped into the breach. At the sizzling garden centre cafe, I sent her to sit down amongst the other white headed diners whilst I ordered the food. She had one special requirement to pass on, so I kept reminding myself to ask for no peppers when I reached the till. "She has an intolerance."

When the strawberry blonde student waitress brought our meals she had followed my instructions, but PW still complained.

"It's the wrong meal. i asked for egg mayonnaise, not salmon!"

She asked for it to be sent it back, but not before joining in a supercilious discussion with the student waitress on the general multi-tasking inadequacies of the male sex.


We went up to Heptonstall on a roasting hot day. At such times the village is lovely, as is its surrounding scenery.

If murder most horrid were to be filmed one summer in Heptonstall, a TV producer would choose a straight talking northern Miss Marple type as the unpaid detective. In winter, however, those pitch black cottages and ruined church would be the setting for a Scandi-noir killer thriller.

Heptonstall actually took on the guise of Royston Vasey in the opening sequence of The League of Gentlemen in the 90s, when a hearse was adorned with BASTARD as its floral tribute. On this shiny happy people sort of day, even the two women who were going to view Sylvia Plath's grave stopped to share a joke about Barbaras' pub when they passed us.

Sylvia at 17

I'm reading Red Comet (2020), the biography by Heather Clark, and was struck by some pieces of Plath juvenilia, such as this one.

I put my fingers in my ears
In wonder
I listen
This is I.
This is my life I hear
Beating like
A muffled airplane engine
Pulsing loud.
Over what barren wastes of rock
And tattered cloud
Is that plane winging?
And why am I struck chill by
Its strange high singing?

Before catching up with the tribe, I sauntered around the brass bands:

Readers write

On sex in the morning:

Heather Wilson: George! The whole verse goes as follows, to the tune of Hark the Herald Angel Sings!

Uncle George and Aunty Mabel
fainted at the breakfast table
This should be sufficient warning
Not to do it in the morning/
But Ovaltine has done them right
Now they do it day and right
Uncle George is hoping soon
To do it in the afternoon!

There you go!

Dave Jackson
Our Beth came round on Monday and recommended this TV series the gallows pole set in Yorkshire in the late 1700s about a bloke who goes to Brum then comes back and all the weavers are hungry an out of work. I said, that sounds like George's play, about the coiners. Watched it that night and realised it was … though I hadn't realised it was only 3 parts. Was expecting more next week and the ultimate hangings.
Great story, great TV. Should have been you … George.

( … Still wonderful to see it at last. Really chuffed you remember my script Dave.)

A shadowy figure haunts Hebden Bridge

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