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Third series, episode 35

All 127 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In episode 35, there's nymphs and sirens to beware for amped up buskers in the square, and strange street games from yesteryear, the philosophy of Sylvia Plath, events at Lords, Elton declares, I Quasimodo up the stairs, a dream of Cliff as Peter Pan, a never ageing Glasto man.

Siren voices cross the square

Dear Editor,
I like to watch the free entertainments in St George's Square at this time of year, what with brass bands one weekend and Morris Dancers the next. I admit that I can stand and watch them for almost a minute or two on occasions. Unplugged buskers also make me smile, and sometimes I would reward them with some shiny coins in their upturned caps, if I didn't need them for carpark charges. It's mainly amplified busking that annoys me, raising the level of my ire as their volume gets higher.

Ever thought that amped up guy with the affected catch in his voice needs strangling as revenge for the bullying inflicted on us, the quietly groaning majority? Well, I've just learned, from a secret source, that the council has finally decided to take action …

Nymphs! And buskers come away …

Well, you know about Nymphs and their mania,
From Greece to Mesopotamia,
But Nymphs Anglo Saxon
Got just as much action,
That's why our Nymphs chose to remain here.

Now I wouldn't tell this to reporters,
But Nymphs still inhabit our waters.
I know for a fact –
On a rolling contract –
Are Nixie the Nymphs and her daughters.

It's buskers they like to attract,
But each cull is done with great tact,
Our Nymphs say `You're so cool!'
To each amplified fool,
Then wrap t' amp lead around t' vocal tract …

But you don't need to witness this crime,
Nymphs sneak through a snicket in time.
As you sip your latte –
At a George's Square café –
They take out young men in their prime.

Some say it's a monstrosity
that young men's curiosity
at Nymphs' voluptuosity
should lead to such atrocity.
But I just shake my head and shrug,
Say, `If they cared about our lugs,
and amplifiers they'd unplug,
then would be Dylans and Jake Buggs
might get more generosity!'

Yours, fearlessly,

Split kippers

Chatting with friends the other day, I realised it was high time to record in these deathless annals the joy of children's games in those far off days of two TV channels, Uncle Mac on the wireless and compulsory belief in God. One of the games back then, in those halcyon days when every boy owned a lethal weapon, had a variety of titles. On Merseyside we called it The Splits. The Opies, the children's folklore archivists, labelled it Split the Kipper. My mate Pete Davis, an offcumden from London long resident in Triangle, still remembers being a kipper splitter on bombsites in the 1950s.

The rules: you faced each other and took turns throwing a penknife into the ground no more than one foot (or two knife lengths) away from the outside of your opponent's foot. Throw it too far, or fail to bury your blade into the earth, and you missed your next turn. Up North, as well as aiming to edge the other lad's feet so wide apart he toppled ignominiously to the ground, you could throw your blade between his legs. This tactic allowed you to put your own feet together (blessed relief) and start again. The aim of the game was simply to make your opponent fall over. You could be disqualified, however, if he fell over because your knife was buried in his groin.

Hopefully, by reintroducing these games of yesteryear, parents can wean their kids off their electronic war games and lure them out once more into the healthy embrace of the great outdoors, allowing you to concentrate on your expensive new smartphones.

She did it well

I'm reading Red Comet, a biography of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark.
In her teenage journal, Plath wrote, "… nothing is real, past or future, when you are alone in your room with the clock ticking loudly into the false cheerful brilliance of the electric light. And if you have no past or future which, after all, is all that the present is made of, why then you may as well dispose of the empty shell of present and commit suicide."

Which is shocking for most us who are not dogged by episodes of depression. Science suggests that something disarranged in the chemistry of the brain plunges sufferers into such dark depths. And yet, Plath, though suffering, was careful to explain the logic of her argument.

At Smith College, in a religion paper, Plath laid out her basic tenets: man was born without purpose in a neutral universe; there was no afterlife; but she loved nature and was "really a pantheist" at heart. "The universe is non-moral, non-purposive … There is no God to care."

Even her achievements as a teenage writing prodigy could not for long lift her out of her feelings of despair and lack of self-worth. Yet she was a free spirit too. When she studied Paradise Lost she wrote in her exam paper (Clark has dug deep) that Eve was bold and brave rather than a narcissistic temptress. "I would have eaten the apple at once!" She also admitted that the devil was a favourite of hers, and one of her favourite quotes was: "The mind is in its own place and in itself/Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n."

She was a brave free spirit, and yet Plath could not in the end make a heaven out of her hell. She had always told herself to avoid sacrificing her freedom for the love of a man. So finding herself betrayed, abandoned and apparently (I haven't reached this part yet) beaten by Ted Hughes, and coping on her own with two children in an underheated house with fitful plumbing, in a snowbound English winter, with the handy availability of a gas stove made plain to her what she must do to be true to her philosophy.

Hey Jude

My son had his 35th birthday last week. How strange when the child who started life almost 14,000 days behind me now has almost half as much lived experience as I've had!

Jude (named after the Obscure one, not the pop song) has always enjoyed sardonic humour. Aged nine at Copley school, when a lad came into the classroom wearing a garish new jumper and the other kids mockingly wolf whistled, Jude quoted Ab Fab:

"It's a Lacroix darling!"

Leaving his supported living accommodation one morning recently, the caretaker enquired, "What you doing today, Jude? Mixed martial arts?"

Which Jude happily recounts, the humour working not only because he has the negative symptoms (lethargy) of someone with schizophrenia, but also an autistic preference for routine – in his case drinking a few lagers amongst friends in two particular HB hostelries. He got a birthday card from "Your friends at the White Lion." In which case his friends being the staff.

Jude laughs at his own gaffes. He noticed a resemblance between a support worker he likes and a woman he once knew, not from round here, and said, "You remind me of her."

"Oh really?" the worker replied, interested to know more.

"Yes. She was a horrible woman."

Which made the worker laugh till she cried, as Jude tried to apologise for his error.

When she finally calmed herself, she asked Jude when his birthday was. He said, "28th June. Same as Rosemary's baby."

Which set her off again.

Ashes to ashes

It isn't cricket 1:

In danger of winning an Ashes series? Why not play BAZ BALL instead of boring old cricket – think of it as England's gift to our Australian cousins.

It isn't cricket 2:

Does it look like the Lord's Test Match is heading for a thrilling finish? Well, here's a solution. Just wait till that English guy thinks the over has ended and tootles down the pitch to tap the turf and chat to his skipper in the time honoured fashion … and then - run the bastard out!!!

First memory

At Puzzle Poets in Sowerby Bridge they also welcome prose pieces. So last week I read Grass from Shapers and Polishers (1991), which was written in response to a challenge from Betty Rosen to a group of us teachers and advisory teachers to recall a first memory.


"A tape typescript of a story told by George Murphy of Halifax at a workshop on Storytelling, 1989, Halifax." [Spoken in a soft Merseyside accent]

I was trying to draw a horse on the living room door but it kept coming out as scribble. Each time I rubbed it out with the cuff of my sleeve. Then, ponderously, as if trying out a new limb, I down stroked a curved blue line. A horse's fore-leg appeared. I pressed on a wedge of torso, three more legs bent contrariwise into a gallop, a strong neck and, lifting my own chin in equine affinity, a proud horse's neck. I signed off with a flourish of tail. A blue horse galloped across a creamy plain.

I walked portentously outside. We lived in Dunkirk Street, where the ruddy bricked house opened out to accommodate small twin fields. It was a street like an amphitheatre to a small child. I ran onto the nearest little field, smacking my backside like a composite Roy Rogers and Trigger.
The heat stopped me. The road at the top of our street was dancing. The sun, the size of a half sucked sweet, vibrated with effort. An aeroplane was droning fitfully, as if invisible hands were clamping on and off me ears in that game we sometimes played. I searched the huge sky, too blue for crayoning, until I saw at last a tiny silver flash, impossibly high. I listened to the plane's intermittent complaints until it had passed out of view, suggesting the curve of earth beyond the rooftops of Dunkirk Street. Then the other somnolent summer sounds returned, a lawn mower somewhere and next street's traffic.

Then I heard the twinnies laughing. They were playing with Big Clifford on their front lawn. They'd taken all their clothes off. They had hollow backs and little pot bellies lined with veins like the rivers on a map. Big Clifford was already in the top infants at school. He leaned over me, his face all red and his sticky out ears pink and almost transparent, and said, "Why don't you take your clothes off George?"

So I did.

When I took me underpants off it felt like taking a layer of skin off it felt so bare. Then we danced round the twinnies little garden, patting our hands against our mouths and shouting, `Woowoowoowoowoowooh!' like the Indians in cowboy films.

Then Clifford said, "Why don't yous put grass up your bums."

So we did.

I cropped a wadge of grass from the twinnies' trim lawn and tucked it between me buttocks. It tickled. Nicely. Then we ran, ululating wildly and feeling more savage than ever. I spun around and around and around and stopped, suddenly, catching the world out. Then it dragged me down to the ground and the twinnies fell, laughing, too. Then we heard our entry* gate open, and we dived for cover behind the twinnies' variegated privet. Between the bare legs of the hedge we could see me mom walking down our path. She was wearing her long pinny.

When she got to the top of our path me mom looked down our street and shouted, "Ge-orge! Yer dinner's ready!"

The street was silent in reply. I could see me mom's face and how worried she looked. I wanted to run out to her and shout, "It's alright, mom. Here I am!"

But I couldn't because I was stark naked with grass up me bum.


Entry: the covered passage between the wash house and the house.
Dinner: a mid-day meal in the North.


When I mentioned Elton John's tenderfoot ("Oh me bunions, dear") entrance onto the stage for his farewell gig, to two writer friends, they reminded me that once, after walking up a few steps onto a stage at a more humble venue, I described myself as 'Quasimodoing.' Quite true back then, darlings, but now I've thrown my sticks away and as it happens am soon to learn the Alexander Technique.

As for Glastonbury, will they ever book Cliff as top of the bill in the legends slot?! I can quite imagine him flying onto the stage like a weirdly ageless Peter Pan, singing Bachelor Boy.

These I liked

Final footnote … Rohan, about those walking shoes in return for your advertising …

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 127 episodes.