Third series, episode 5
All 97 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.
In episode 5, there's a medley of themes: I'll be your mirror, a ticklish subject, And in the end, Help! I need somebody, This ain't no party! There's also a walk in the woods, Mrs Grimm and Coming out day - a fairy tale of Hebden Bridge!
I'll be your mirror
"Cheer up John, it might never happen!"
But it already had. John Prescott blamed his dour demeanour on his genes. He might be feeling hunky dory in himself, but from his youth his face in repose settled into what he called "the Prescott face." At ease, he has the downcast mien of a bulldog without a bone. My son often asks me, "I haven't upset you have I dad?" I sometimes want to say, "Nowt's wrong, son. It's just my Murphy mug."
People with autism lack some of the skills they need to confidently read people's moods. Research shows that when we look at others we unconsciously mimic their facial expressions. This tiny mirroring sends messages through our synapses and a light goes on in our brains. So if I'm at a social gathering, and an attractive woman gives me a Mona Lisa smile, my instinctive copying of her subtle grin helps me understand what she's really thinking but can't bring herself to say. In such circumstances, I've learnt to sidle off to the gents to check if my flies are undone or I've got a blob of custard in my beard. Or both.
Autistic people haven't got this sophisticated warning system. And they're not alone. Pity the poor Botox user. When they paralyse their faces their judgement deteriorates. Check out the celebrity couples in Hello! magazine to prove my point.
A ticklish subject
I always enjoy chiropody sessions, apart from the exquisite torture when my chiropodist tickles my soles. I know she's doing something useful with her creams, medications, dusters and scrapers down there, because when she's finished I feel like I'm walking on new feet, but during the operation itself, I grit my teeth behind my mask to avoid emitting hysterical laughter.
Thinking again about reading people's facial expressions, I once struck up a conversation with an athlete who told me he suffered from stomach problems. He hoped that when he was being passionate with his new partner she misread the pained expression on his face for the throes of ecstasy rather than him suppressing a malodorous bout of flatulence.
Funny how stangers tell you their innermost secrets!
A springtime saunter
I had instructions to walk to the top of Redacre Woods to collect the granddaughter after her school's nature jaunt, but I'd forgotten how unfit I am these days. My daily tours around the cafes of Hebden Bridge hadn't hardened me for the steep climb to the lofty sunkissed glade where musical events were occurring.
Fortunately, before legs and heart gave out I came upon a most thoughtfully placed wooden bench. From which restful vantage point I took a few snaps, and after no more than a ten minute recovery, I set off again; only to discover that Rosie and her party had gone back to school by a quite different route.
And in the end
One morning, PW had a lie in, and after a while I sneaked upstairs to check if she was still breathing. I vividly remember doing this when our kids were tiny, but now it's our turn.
Fortunately, no one dies of old age anymore, we just 'pass away.' Afterwards, our children will say they've 'lost' us, but I expect they won't send out a search party. I imagine us wandering in our lost condition around a sort of misty Limbo land, whilst St Michael or Satan patiently check on their fob watches, knowing that we are now, for ever more, the late Kath and George.
Help! I need somebody
Sorry Jenny Josephs, when I grew old, I didn't wear purple, I stood in a queue at a 'convenience store', while a young assistant tried to deal with a customer who required a multiplicity of lottery tickets, and suddenly I found myself shouting, "Help!"
The other shoppers, who had been willingly sharing silent grimaces with me in the standard English manner, now studied the fascinating patina on the floor tiles.
"Help!" I shouted again.
I turned to the young assistant's more senior colleague, who was involved in the very important task of aligning very short rows of white wine bottles in the chill cabinet. He turned and haughtily gestured towards the beseiged lass behind the counter. So I called him out.
"Can you stop tidying wine bottles and serve your customers?"
As if by magic, a young man zoomed out of a back room, took a place behind the counter and the queue disappeared in under two minutes (apart from the guy ordering lottery tickets).
I passed a small gaggle of young lasses in the park and heard one say, "Do those warnings on cig packets put you off?"
One of her pals laughed, "Oh yeah. I'm going to die three years early!"
Not just that love, I thought, think of the expense. A packet of twenty now costs twelve quid. Add that up and it comes to a tidy sum, even in your truncated lifetime.
PW's mum smoked from an early age, like most of her generation. In her last years her morphine medication arrived with a police escort. As her lung cancer progressed to her brain, they put her into the General in Halifax. One evening she kept asking PW to get her some cigs from a fag dispensing machine, which she was convinced was situated just round the corner from her ward. On cue, two white coated junior doctors appeared, on their evening ward round.
"Hey lads!" she shouted.
"Hey lads! Lads!"
"Mother, shut up!"
The junior docs, with quickened pace, sped past her bed, whilst solemnly considering their files.
"Lads, lads, get me some tabs! Get me some tabs. Lads …"
This ain't no party
The council elections came and went, with the Tories, who have always piled money into London and the South, losing lots of councils down there, and Labour not doing as well as they'd like in the Tory neglected North.
We had PW's relatives down from the North East and the first hour of election coverage was filled with the usual prognosticating about results from council wards in Sunderland, where the vote counters never hang about as 10 o'clock means party time in them parts.
Much of the post election discussion is whether Johnson should resign because of lying about numerous parties at Number 10, or Starmer should quit because in February him and his By Election canvassers had a take away in a kitchen at 10 o'clock. Labour hadn't let on that Angela Rayner was there, and as she went to a comprehensive school, and has good dancing pins, it proves for certain that they all had a wild pizza and beer fuelled rave.
In The Fairy Tellers (2022), Nicolas Jubber uncovers the names and biographies of the forgotten originators, retellers and adaptors of some of our most famous folk tales. The brothers Grimm made written copies of the tales told by their teenage neighbour, Dortchen Wilde, including Rumpelstiltskin, The Elves and the Shoemaker and Hansel and Gretel. The daughter of an apothecary, she began to relate her tales to the story collecting brothers at the age of fifteen.
The brothers collected stories in their apartment, in the summer house and in 'the front rooms of middle class acquaintances.' More than fifty of the tales were contributed by young women under the age of twenty five. The Grimms listened to the tales and made their transcriptions later.
Apart from the Wilde family, the other major contributors were the three Hassenpflug sisters, Marie, Jeanette and Amalie, who provided twenty eight tales to the first collection, including Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. They were Huguenots and their tales owed much to French fairy tales. Jubber remarks that Marie had 'a knack for telling grisly tales involving lots of amputated limbs.'
Dortchen's son, Hermann later wrote that his mother had learnt most of her stories from Marie Miller, a Lutheran widow who once lived with the Wildes, 'from her, the first edition got its most beautiful tales.' Who first told the tales to Mrs Miller, we'll never know.
Dortchen was the last of the sisters to marry, having stayed at home to look after her father's needs when her mother died. In The Wild Girl, a recent and acclaimed novel by Kate Forsyth, the author analyses the violence and heartbreak in the stories and surmises that Dortchen was the victim of sexual abuse, perpetrated by her predatory father. Aged 32, Dortchen Wilde married Wilhelm Grimm, and by all accounts, they lived happily ever after.
Coming Out Day
Fairy tales traditionally involve magic, and in this story I was inspired by a sunlit early evening walk along the road leading to the Scout hostel in Hardcastle Crags, more particularly by the way in which the thumbnail sized juvenile toads stopped their march when I stopped walking to stare at them. When I walked forward again they also set off.
Coming Out Day: A Fairytale of Hebden Bridge
It wor t' best type o' weather,
An t' best time o' year,
An t' best time o' day without doubt.
All t' flowers wor bloomin'
In t' bluebell woods,
On t' day our Jane came out.
At a pantomime, she felt rapture and joy,
But this memory, our Jane had suppressed:
When she'd fallen for t' Principal Boy,
Although she wor sure he had breasts.
Later on we had other thrills,
We used to rush out to watch t' flames,
When mill owners burnt down their mills,
To fiddle insurance claims.
But then a woman had opened a shop,
With books of a Sapphic persuasion.
Our Jane just went out for a mop,
But she got a romantic liaison.
And insect creations
Made their murmurations,
It wor t' first time o t' year to cast clout.
And ramblers wor rambling
And spring lambs wor gambolling
On t' day our Jane came out.
We wor all tucking into us teas,
When our Jane said, 'I've summat to say.
As our kid trained his side eyes on me,
Jane stood up and told us, "I'm Gay."
There wor birds celebrating
It wor their time for mating
And woodpeckers hammered it out.
And swallows wor soaring
And rivers stopped roaring
On t' day our Jane came out.
Mum went round to Gran's to explain.
She could see her mind having to grapple.
She said, "A Wesleyan…our Jane?
But it's years since she's been to t' Chapel!"
But she'd thrown off her stealth,
She wor being herself
As she walked into t' woods she'd no doubt.
But near top o t' hill,
She froze…statue still…
On t' day our Jane came out.
She thought tarmac wor creeping up t' road,
She couldn't take in t' situation:
That hundreds of nut-brown toads
Wor making their Annual Migration.
But with Nature in harmony,
She didn't harm any,
She didn't go hopping about!
As she carefully stepped,
Each small creature crept,
On t' day our Jane came out.
A Wolf wor down at t' Stepping Stones,
Mr B.B. Wolf to state fully.
He wor making low lascivious groans,
He wor t' mill owner's son an' a bully.
He said, "What happy meeting is this?
Why, it's t' fustian cutter's Daughter!
Give your Dad's old Employer a kiss…
That's my price for you crossing this water."
Jane said, "I'm not your sort, now you ask.
And I don't like your tone when you woo.
My lover is holding an axe,
And what's more, Mr Wolf…SHE'S BEHIND YOU!"
But that lass she met shopping,
Whose job wor wood chopping,
She didn't use her weapon or owt.
I hope you'll forgive her,
She pushed Wolf in t' river,
On t' day our Jane came out!
They walked down t' Old Mill Road,
To t' Wishing Well, in t' Bluebell Copse,
When up hopped a frog…
An' up hopped a toad…
It wor' Wishing Well equal opps.
They said, cos none o t' toads had got squished,
Jane wor granted 3 Wishes she wished!
She said, "A Sweetheart to marry me."
(Though she thought that that could never be).
"An' Hebden…t' Best Small Market Town…
An' t' Capital o t' North!"
Then Ms Toad asked Mr Frog, to read it all back from his Log.
He said, "A Sweetheart will Marry thee…Rivet!
And Hebden: t' Best Small Market Town shall be…Rivet!
And t' Lesbian Capital o t' North. Knee Deep!"
Though that third wish worn't as she'd intended,
Happen she wor glad it worn't amended…
'Cos, that's how it's all come about…
Since t' day our Jane came out!
Oh, look out!
4: 00, 9th June: Horatio Clare is on Radio 4 in Writing the road to war he heads to Ukraine with great writers as his companions.
Order your copy of The Perfect Golden Circle, a life affirming and distinctive novel by Hebden Bridge's Benjamin Myers, which has been compared to classic novels such as Cider with Rosie and The Go Between.
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