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Third series, episode 39

All 131 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In the latest episode there's stories of mice and men, Bill Gates and witches, dogs as the new babies, there's a golden  gastronomic tour, a media star, a golden ball  - and a special guest editor!

Of Mice and Men

In my student days, we were staying a few nights at me mom's. One night, I took a box of Ritz Crackers to bed with me. After eating a few crackers – I'd taken up running again and was in need of the carbs – necessary ablutions were performed, we turned the lights off and then settled down for the night. Or so we thought.

A few seconds later we heard a faint scrabbling noise.

"What's that?" Kath whispered.

"It's just someone putting a plug in next door," I reassured her.
But a few seconds later, the scrabbling noise continued … emanating apparently from the Ritz Crackers packet situated close beside Kath's presumably wide awake face.

Taking command of the situation, I told her to open the nearby sash window. Meanwhile, I grabbed a stray discarded sock from the floor, and after a moment's hesitation about which bit of me to protect, I pulled it over my hand. After which, in one imperious move, I grabbed shut the top of the cracker packet and flung it outside, mouse and all.

Next morning, Me Mom drew back the curtains downstairs and wondered why a Ritz Cracker packet and its contents was splattered across the front garden.

But the night before, I reckon my intended had evaluated the true mettle of her man, and rather like that Colin Firth guy, who in later years impressed Jennifer Ehle by diving into a pond, (although with the additional advantage of owning Haddon Hall) reader, she married me.*

*Note from Guest Editor, PW: very good, but that's a different book – and don't eat in bed.

Bill Gates and witches

Despite the fact that 98.8% of coronavirus deaths in England in early 2021 occurred in people who had been under vaccinated, conspiracy theorists have decided that Bill Gates's charitable support for vaccination programmes and his provision of 5G masts indicate that Bill must be using technology and vaccines as a means to control people and keep track on their whereabouts; oh, and come to think of it, he was most likely abducting and murdering their children while he was at it.

Danish researchers have found common elements in today's conspiracy theories and their country's ancient folk tales. In the minds of conspiracists, Bill knew Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew's paedophile pal, and therefore Bill must be part of a Jewish led cabal of child traffickers. I mean, it stands to reason.

Bill Gates and his mates are said to eat children's hearts as part of a Satanic ritual. And as people, from common folks to kings, once explained their ill fortune by blaming defeats in battles, and the unexplained death of cows and children on witches, now conspiracists blame Gates and Soros for their woes. You can check all this out by getting a free newspaper from one of those nice people who ostentatiously hug each other in George's Square whenever a pandemic breaks out.

The comparative invisibility of viruses and the mysterious happenings in hi tech science labs, added to the power of storytelling and the attractiveness of belonging to a conspiracy group with exclusive insights, also explain the establishment of such preposterous conspiracies.

PW:See the National Library of Medicine, Shahsavari et al for the free article.

Dogs are the new babies

One cultural shift I've noticed over the last three score years and ten: people have stopped loudly admiring each other's babies when they meet. Now they coo over each other's dogs. In fact research has shown that dogs behave better with owners who use baby talk.

As for parents, instead of talking to their young children, or reading to them, thick thumbed parents nowadays study their phones, and at an early age give their bored nippers their own phones, so that they themselves can be ignored in return.


"There is something depressingly mucky about English seaside resorts." Sylvia Plath, writing to her mother from Whitby, August 1960.

Leading up to our Golden Anniversary, our kids told us we had a whole week in which we were not allowed to argue. Quite a challenge.

At Whitby, the breakfasts at Craig and Matt's, just below the park, were, in my judgment, `nudging perfection.' I find Whitby visually fascinating, although Sylvia P longed to luxuriate on an uncrowded, unblemished beach on the American Atlantic seaboard, where she used to spend her summers.

PW has been going to Whitby since she was a little girl and she had planned our itinerary in detail. Craig and Matt had advised us to eat at Cosa Nostra, which we loved, except for the echoey racket from some tables in the old chapel building. Fortunately, we got a table high up in the gods, right next to the bar.

Second night we went to The Magpie, which these days allows people to book in advance. As most people don't know this yet, PW's research meant we could sail past the usual long queue as if we were film stars. I had fish and chips, for old time's sake, although I always find their chips pale as a blond guy on an a cold beach in an English summer. Something with a Mediterranean tan is more to my taste. As usual, service was brisk but not pushy, and staff were polite and on top of things.

There were plenty of familiar sights in Whitby, including meeting Michael and Mother Shipton in the old quarter. It was folk week and some visitors told me they'd been coming for the last twenty years. They said they'd never paid for the live events in the theatre, they just took off to the folk friendly pubs, where they all strummed and sang for free.


Before she died, I had a playful dispute with my mother in law, Margaret. She maintained that there is a castle in Helmsley, and despite her doing silver service waitressing at The Black Swan, and meeting her first husband in the town during the war, I always reckoned there wasn't a castle there. What she was remembering was Rievaulx Abbey.

Nowadays PW always takes great pleasure in capturing photographic evidence that her mother was right. There's some good cafes leading up to the castle and you can skirt round the very palpable remains of the Norman fortress to admire the flowers and eat the excellent lunches at the plant nursery.

We had a very good evening meal at the Feathers in the square and breakfast wasn't bad, but the coffee was weak and tepid.

Whilst we were away, I also did some research … into anniversaries:

  • 25th Silver - (we bought each other a clock in Stratford)
  • 40th Ruby
  • 45th Sapphire
  • 50th Gold (fortunately, PW doesn't like gold. I would have bought her flowers but everyone else did).
  • 55th Emerald
  • 60th Diamond
  • 65th Blue Sapphire
  • 70th Platinum
  • 80th Oak - (I suppose this will come in handy for coffins).

The Star Inn at Harome

49 years, eleven months and 364 days since we got married, I had the best food and service I've ever eaten at this grade 2 listed, fourteenth century two Michelin star, Star Inn at Harome. The roof was burnt down by an arsonist a couple of years ago, but after spending over a million pounds on the repair it looks as good as old. When we got back someone asked me what kind of food it was. I said, "I'll have to ask my wife."

Guest Editor: you had halibut and oyster and I had duck three ways – and each way was luscious. At breakfast, you chose smoked salmon and after one bite you remembered you didn't like it.

Now you're framing

Publicity seems to follow my mate Rod around. A few years back he was on Radio 4 telling Yorkshire tales. Another year he was on the 'And finally … ' spot at the end of the ITN news, bantering amusingly about Yorkshire Dialect. Now he's been in the Mail and Times, after offering to teach Yorkshire Dialect and Grammar to locals and offcumdens alike. In fact, Rod Dimbleby is a media magnet.

The sound of Yorkshire speech is still widely heard around what were the old Ridings, but some dialect words have fled. The Scandinavian word Bairns was once used, but has long gone, (it is still commonly used from Durham up to Northumberland). When I began teaching in Yorkshire, 49 years ago, I was told I was framing, an old term from the textile industry. And while spinning yarns since I retired, I've always accepted Rod's guidance on dialect and grammar, what with him being Chair of the Yorkshire Dialect Society.

But having two Yorkshire children and a Tyke granddaughter, and listening to pupils and students over the years, I've noticed new trends in accent as well as in dialect. I remember children in Halifax classrooms fifty years ago used the old Scandinavian word laikin, but often pronounced it 'lekkin.' But the use of Laikin seems to be dying out these days. Dropping the definite article and the aspirant are still common, as are terms such as summat. As long as children can `code switch' to Standard English when appropriate, and not be criticised for their accents, survivors such as Me Mam, Me Mum, Me Mom instead of My mum, will often fill maternal lugs from the Mersey to the Humber and throughout most of the Roses counties.

As for the sound of Northern speech, I've heard words with ly endings, such as adverbs, often spoken with an eh ending, rather than an ly (lee). Such as `Mum eh.' This pronunciation is heard in recordings of Ted Hughes reciting his poems. And, at a delightful party in Todmorden the other day, Lancastrians from Burnley, Bolton and Blackburn were using it during disputes over the merits of soccer teams. But I won't tell my brilliant co performer Rod Dimbleby, Yorkshire man born and bred, about it. Happen.

Last letter

On the morning of my 50th anniversary, I read the epilogue to Red Comet, the short life and blazing art of Sylvia Plath (Heather Clark, 2020), which includes this poem by Ted Hughes.

I lit  my fire. I had got out my papers.
And I had started to write when the telephone
Jerked awake, in a jabbering alarm,
Remembering everything,
It recovered in my hand.
Then a voice like a selected weapon
Or a measured injection
Coolly delivered its four words
Deep into my ear: "Your wife is dead."

Golden wedding meal

Back home on the 25th to see the family on our 50th. Then out that evening to the tapas in Mytholmroyd. The chips were bronzed and brilliant.

An old tale

The Golden Ball

Two sisters were walking home from the fair, when they saw a handsome young man waiting for them outside their house. He was clad in a cap of gold, wore a golden ring on each finger and consulted a thick gold watch. Then he held out to each sister a golden ball, but warned them that if they lost their golden ball they would be hanged.

The youngest girl played catch with her ball near a park wall, but eventually she lost it over the wall. She ran round the wall to find it, but saw it roll down a slope and into a house. She banged on the door, but before anyone answered, men came and dragged her away to be hanged. Fortunately, her secret sweetheart had followed her to see that she got safely home, and he ran towards her as she was led away and promised to save her by finding the lost ball. He banged on the door of the house and an old woman looked out and said he must spend three days in the house before he would find the golden ball. Then the door to the house swung open.

The sweetheart searched all through the house with no success. Suddenly he heard footsteps approaching outside. A giant, five times his size entered the room, but didn't see him. The giant went to summon the spirits outside, but as he leaned out of a window, the lad jumped forward and chopped him in half with his sword. The top of the giant fell out into the yard.

The spirits shouted, "There comes our master, now gives us t'other half."

The next night, the lad stopped at the house again. A second giant arrived and as it entered the lad chopped the second giant in half. This took the giant so much by surprise that the legs carried on and walked up the chimney.

The lad picked up the giant's head and threw it up the chimney, shouting, "Get thee after thy legs."

The third night, the lad was lying in one of the house beds when he heard the spirits rolling the golden ball around under the bed. The lad swung his sword around under the bed, and the spirits feared they would be slain, so they rolled the ball out from under the bed.

The young lass had been taken to York to be hanged, and as she was brought out to the scaffold she cried:

"Stop, stop, I think my mother is coming.

Oh mother, have you got my golden ball,

And are you going to set me free?"

"I 've neither got thy golden ball,

Nor come to set you free,

But I have come to see thee hung,

Upon this gallows tree."

The hangman told her to say her prayers and ready herself to be hanged by the neck until she was dead, but then the girl again shouted out:

"Stop, stop, I think I see my father coming.

Oh father, have you got my golden ball,

And are you going to set me free?

"I've neither got thy golden ball,

Nor come to set thee free,

But I have come to see thee hung,

Upon this gallows tree."

So the hangman told her to say her prayers, but again she shouted out. She could see her sweetheart coming through the crowd.

"Stop, stop, I see my sweetheart coming.

Sweetheart, have you brought my golden ball,

And come to set me free.

"Yes, I've brought thy golden ball,

And come to set thee free?

I have not come to see thee hung,

Upon the gallows tree."

So the young lass was allowed down from the scaffold, and took better care of the golden ball in future. And so they lived happily ever after.

Guest Editor: except in hard-hearted Halifax, captured in the stained glass at the old courtroom across from the swimming pool, the sweetheart arrived back too late …

And finally, a gift from Robbie Burns …


John Anderson


John Anderson my jo, John,
When we were first acquent,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow were brent;
But now your brow is bald, John,
Your locks are like the snow;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Andreson my jo.

John Anderson my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And mony a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither:
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we'll go,
And sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson my jo.


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