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Fourth series, episode 11

All 143 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

There's a star studded cast in the latest episode, including storytellers at Hebden and Haworth, poets in the park and Henry Normal at the Trades, along with D Day veterans, Starmer and Sunak, Michael Moseley, Nick Clegg and a local folk hero.

Shaggy Doggers

There was a packed, convivial audience at Stubbing Wharf for Shaggy Dog's end of month folktales. The telling was compelling and I especially enjoyed a sizzler of a tale about a self-combusting fowl told by Lara of Ireland by way of York.

Normal Service

Henry Normal at the Trades Club quoted an old saying: "They say people perform twice at the Trades. The first is when they are on the way up. The second is when they are on the way down … So, this is my second time here."

It was a gag filled evening, from a man whose business has been comic humour for going on 50 years. He was the founder of the Manchester Poetry Festival and co-Founder of the Nottingham Poetry Festival, back in the 80s, advertising poetry so good you can actually understand it!

After a pre Lockdown learning stint at the Arvon Centre, sometimes tutored by Theresa Sowerby of my trio The Offcumdens, he restarted touring his shows of comic verse, suggesting that if poetry was compared to drug taking, Simon Armitage would be heroin whilst he'd be Calpol.

Henry has produced and script-edited programmes such as Alan Partridge, Mrs Merton, Red Dwarf, Mighty Boosh, Alan Partridge and Gavin and Stacey, and films including Philomena. After the show he gave me a tip about comic verse: 'I work on a ratio of one serious poem in every five.' Those TV series were also laced with sadness alongside humour. He helped to script Mrs Merton and The Royle Family, along with Dave Gorman and Craig Cash, but said that the best lines were usually written by Caroline Aherne, including that question Mrs Merton asked Debbie McGee.

Don't tread on my toads

At Stubbing Wharf, I performed Coming Out Day, A Fairy Tale of Hebden Bridge, and reminded people to tread lightly and carefully if they walk into the Crags one light June evening, weather permitting, for the lane to the Scout Hostel is a highway for baby toads finding their way to their summer watering hole.

In David Attenborough's series on the wildlife of the British Isles one of the cameramen broke the code of such nature documentaries by rescuing a tiny toadlet from the mouth of a leech! Horse leeches have their teeth at the back of their mouths, and the toadlet would have been munched up and then dispatched to a liquidising leech belly, but the Beeb man persuaded it to release its prey just in time. He reckoned the leech didn't feel too bothered about it.

First leaders debate

Starmer looked red faced and nervous despite Labour's lead in the polls. Rishi kept demanding Keir should answer questions on a bogus Tory claim that Labour's secret policies would lead to a £2000 tax rise. He kept talking out of turn, as he had done during his debates with Liz Truss. If Julie Etchingham had been a schoolteacher she'd have put him on the naughty step.

When Sunak questioned the reliability of the Shadow Cabinet on defence matters, Starmer took it personally. As Head of the Crown Prosecution Service he was organising a defence against terrorist groups whilst Rishi was enriching himself using a hedge fund to bet against the value of the pound.


Great fleas have little fleas, upon their backs to bite 'em,
And little fleas have lesser fleas, and so on adfinitum.

On Springwatch, a vet reported on the impact of dog flea treatments. Turns out these expensive poisons get into our water systems and decimate bio-diversity. Many less ethical vets are sponsored by companies to sell chemicals which not only kill aquatic insects but also, in a reversal of the well-known rhyme by Augustus De Morgan, larger species which prey upon them.

*A biological order of fleas

Poets in the Park

The first day in June was sunny and warm. I tagged along to the Arvon Centre's literature event with the Rileys (writer Peter and chorister Beryl) to enjoy hearing Sammy Weaver and Carola Luther, two of my favourite local writers, and a stirring and moving series from Zaffar Kunial. Zaffar started with a childhood reminiscence of hearing his father's angry reaction to bombings on civilians in the first Gulf War. During partition, his father had lived through a bombing atrocity in his childhood village. The poet ended with a denunciation of Israel and the West's actions in Palestine, both in present day Gaza, and back over many generations.

Michael Moseley

Relatives of mine have used the 5:2 diet to lose weight and avoid type 2 diabetes. So I've always admired Dr Moseley and his wife's efforts to improve the nation's health, with him often taking on the role of guinea pig in experiments. Recently, he drank lager at lunchtime so that fellow scientists could measure its effects on his physical and cognitive skills, since when I've kept my own intake below 20 units per week. Sometimes. I'd just listened to his broadcast on the virtues of slow eating, and was actually slowly enjoying a soup and bread lunch in a local café on the day he went missing.

In Trust me I'm a Doctor, one Moseley tip was to suggest busy people could use short bursts of strenuous activities rather than slower paced endurance exercises; a tactic backed up by science. It was tragic, therefore, that he died in circumstances that most endurance athletes would have avoided. Two crucial factors were his age and the time of day at which he set out. He told his wife he wasn't feeling well, and left her and their friends, and set off walking back to his hotel in 40 degree heat. His phone was back in his room, so he couldn't alert others about his precise location or use a Satnav app to plot his route. The walk usually took him half an hour, but this time he made a wrong turning and was out in the scorching sun for 90 minutes.

As his wife said after his death, Dr Mosley loved to challenge himself, and was only a few moments away from finding a safe haven at a taverna when he died.

Feedback forms

After the poetry performances in the park, I was given a feedback form with a choice of adjectives to tick and a comment box to complete. Presumably, this was to check that sponsor's money wasn't being wasted. My response was speedy and laudatory. What I didn't write down, however, was:

  1. Why don't poets use mics? Especially if a poet talks quietly and senior citizens in the audience are cupping a hand to their best ear.
  2. When to clap? Slam Poets damn well let you know when they're done. Comic Monologuists flourish a hat and then bow extravagantly. But Proper Poets just smile, shyly. I like these embarrassed pauses, they're quite hard to read, but my mind flitted to a big dress no knickers Edwardian woman in The Classic Slum who was greeted by a dirty faced street urchin in a Salford alley. When she smiled an uncomfortable grin, he noticed the warm pool of urine racing towards his clogs. This image lingered for a moment. Then I realised it wasn't the poets in a state of distress – it was me that needed a wee!
  3. Audiences need toilets! Rising too quickly from my seat, the clunky wooden chair toppled me onto the grass into an ignominious heap. Helped up, I brushed myself off, tried an unconvincing laugh and then bolted from the tent. The queue for the solitary park bog was slow moving and snake-like. So I staggered on, and eventually found blessed relief behind a large rhododendron bush. Our public parks have turned into alfresco toilets! Remember this when you cast your vote!

Taxing issues

The Tories are 20 points behind Labour in the Opinion Polls, but concocting a bogus version of Labour's tax plans came unstuck for the PM when the Head of the Civil Service explained that the £2000 calculation was based on guesstimates from Conservative special advisors. This allowed Starmer to call Sunak a liar.

Tax has become a dirty word in the mind of Tory politicians, despite Rishi Sunak presiding over the highest tax burden for 70 years. Yet, opinion polls show that the public would rather pay for better services than have tax cuts.

There are a lot of ways of gaining tax from the richest members of society, although Rachel Reeves doesn't want to scare away entrepreneurs and the business community. Watching photographs of Prince William at the wedding of the tax dodging Duke of Westminster reminded me that land and inheritance tax are two areas where the super-rich pay less tax than working people.

Before publishing their manifesto, Labour signalled it would close a tax loophole which allows private equity investors to avoid paying income tax. I'd also like it if council tax charges were revisited to make it fairer for people here in the North.

Meta matters

A new social media friend amuses me by her laconic responses to other people's posts. A feminist businesswoman (probably in the States) had boasted that her firm allows female employees to have longer lunchtimes 'to allow time for masturbation.' This boast was allowed to be posted by the mighty AI Controller (who prefers the use of Latin terminology for describing bodily functions).

If only my Facebook friend had deployed a few coy crosses in her response: 'No thanks, I'm wxxxing from home these days.' Then I'm sure her riposte would not have been axed by Nick Clegg's robotic censor.

Lest we forget

Driving a car full of friends to Haworth Storytelling Circle, we all admitted how moved we'd been by the D Day Remembrance events in Normandy. It was not just the sad moments. We loved the amusing bits too. A 99 year old veteran told the King to get his birthday card ready, whilst another kept calling him, 'Prince Charles.'

The speeches by centenarians about lost pals who died on those beaches must have brought tears to the eyes of millions of viewers. Young men who landed on the Normandy beaches knew they might not survive the strafing fire from the Nazis.

Now the west is again at war, and there's a danger that the USA won't support other democracies if Trump wins in November. But when, in a show of solidarity, the leaders gathered to celebrate the allied landings, it turned out that our leader, our representative, Rishi our Prime Minister, had nipped home early for a TV interview.

Ofsted ratings

I was talking to an ex primary headteacher a few years ago about the effects of OFSTED Inspections on people working in school. She told me that the Satisfactory grade had been scrapped, and replaced by the term Must Improve!*

Writer and storyteller Sarah O'Mara surprised me at the Haworth Storytelling Circle by requesting the following song from Hippy Valley. If you want to join in, it goes to the tune of the Pizzicato in the ballet Sylvia by Delibes, but look out for the posh pronunciation of the word chance in Marjory's song.

Marjory Dexter Schools Inspector

Richard Perkin, most parts working,
Looking for late romance joined a dating agency.
Met Marjory Dexter, Schools Inspector,
She gave ratings after datings in five categories …

[Female Part]

Your manners and opinions I endorse: Grade 4s!
Your country house and cars deserve applause: more 4s!
But sex was only satisfactory: Grade 3!
So really Richard, don't start boasting,
Friends agree that you've been coasting,
On this website I am hosting.
If we should date again by any chance, Dickie!
You really ought to think of ambience, Dickie!
So stir my fires down below,
You'll never make my embers glow,
By playing tunes by Barry Manilow, Dickie!

[Male Part]

Marjory Dexter, Schools Inspector,
Thank you for your ratings in all five categories.
You say our mating was deflating,
Satisfaction calls for action, but you're hard to please.

Although your charms I find hard to resist, Marjory!
Every move I made you ticked a list, Marjory!
And then you put on t' Ride o't Valkyries, Marjory!
And it did not increase my pleasure,
Contemplating parts I treasure,
When you took out your tape measure!
Your website says that you admire restraint, Marjory!
But when I saw your whips I felt quite faint, Marjory!
At bravery, I'm not a champ,
I draw the line at nipple clamps,
In fact, I'm satisfied I scored Grade 3, Marjory!

And finally

A prescient song from local hero, Steve Tilston, writ long ago.

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