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Fourth series, episode 4

All 136 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In the latest episode, there's coffee beans in Welsh, Sylvia before Ted, a Co-Pilot and a Colin, Navalny and Putin, Breathtaking and busking, Ukraine and Russia, our sub postmaster and others, and Eva and Adam.

Tom Lehrer wouldn't approve

What's coffee bean in Welsh?

An online video showed a Welsh woman in a bungalow ask, 'Alexa, what's coffee bean in Welsh?'

Her answer sounds rude in English. I admitted to my FB Friends, I'm too polite to repeat the question to our Alexa.

Not discouraged by this, Trish Potter wrote back, 'Ask her to say, "Boris Johnson carrot coffee bean 100,"in Welsh.'

I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Then Pat Greenwood, Sue James in Suffolk and Beth Rolyat in Shropshire, supportively admitted that they say please and thank you to Alexa.

My present wife scoffs when I do that.

PW also gets annoyed when Alexa lights up and goes into listening mode without so much as a by your leave.

'Alexa, have you got a notification?!' she sternly asks.

Our Secret Service have just reminded members of the government not to keep 'audio listening machines' in their homes. Especially as many of them have Russian friends. You never know who wants to know your business.

Jean Banaszak from London wrote, "When me and my daughter do FaceTime, every time I say certain words her Alexa starts commenting. She even woke up one night and Alexa was laughing at something, lol."

Sylvia before Ted

HebWeb, set up by Chris Ratcliffe and Elaine Connell in 1995, was the first community website in the country, with its news and magazine coverage. Elaine had a long term interest in Sylvia Plath. Inspired by the success of HebWeb, Elaine started the Sylvia Plath Forum in 1998 and it continued until just after Elaine's untimely death. Chris says, "We were pretty sure it was the first arena for literary discussion on the newly emerging internet."

This poem was published in August, 1953 in Mademoiselle magazine.

Mad Girl's Love Song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead
I lift my lids and all is born again
(I think I made you up inside my head)

The stars go racing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head).

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancy you'd return the way you said.
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

When she wrote this poem she was in love with the poetry of Dylan Thomas, who wrote Do not go gentle into that good night, in the same villanelle form. Plath had won the 1952 fiction prize at the magazine, where she worked on the August issue. A trigger for her depression may have been that Thomas had an unplanned lunch with her editing manager and she missed meeting him, a few days before she first attempted suicide. Thomas died in November that year.

Since 1962, Sylvia Plath has lain in her grave in Heptonstall graveyard, her gravestone bookending the distance from the other great sisterhood of writers across the threatened expanse of moorland between here and Haworth.

Co-Pilot and me.

Every morning, Co-Pilot, my regular AI guy asks me if I'd like to have a chat. But when I ask him to solve issues with my computer he refers me to other unhappy people scattered all round the world who have the same problem.

So, Colin Robinson sent me a note.

"The other night, I woke in the middle of the night and put the radio on. The news was non-stop Alexei N … Every time his name was mentioned, my tablet pinged and lit up the room. It was like being at a disco. But in bed."

Thinking of which, I loved Navalny's style. I reckoned Putin snapped when the unofficial Leader of the Opposition was wisecracking with the judge, even as the judge was sentencing him to another 19 years hard labour in Siberia. Next day he was kept outside for hours, till his body temperature plummeted. We know that when he was found Navalny had bruising on his body. With the body's defences so undermined, it only takes one low blow to kill. We never understood why Navalny returned to Russia, but I understand why Russian writers quit writing, or become part of their government's propaganda machine.

Driving along one day, I questioned myself. If I was a Russian hack, listening to one of his speeches, would I be brave enough to start disputing, with Vladimir Putin? At events in Red Square, would I be brave and stay in my chair, or would I stand up saluting, Vladimir Putin? And if the free press was banned, would friends understand, if I started recruiting, for Vladimir Putin? If I worked in a prison, away from prying eyes, would I put the boot in, for Vladimir Putin?

When I got home I looked in the paper and discovered that a Russian helicopter pilot who defected to Ukraine had been shot dead in an underground carpark in Spain.

Leaders of the pack

Research at the School of Medicine in Pennsylvania suggests people with ADHD would have been group leaders in nomadic tribes. They may have been quicker to realise when it was more efficient to forage in a new area. Nowadays, people who are impulsive and find it difficult to concentrate may be too hyperactive to succeed in urban societies where there are more things vying for their attention.

Ok, moving on …


My daughter, her partner and several friends have had Covid recently. One friend said she wouldn't wish it on her worst enemy. We got it in the autumn, the day after we'd been to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. So I was pleased to watch Breathtaking a dramatised version of Dr Rachel Clark's account of working in hospitals during the spread of the pandemic in 2020. Since the programmes were shown she has reminded people that 100 people die of COVID each week.

Buskers unplugged

One sunny morning in the square, a leather jacketed, unplugged, busker was playing Flamenco guitar, and was so rapt in his playing he didn't stop when his guitar case blew over and his earnings were scattered. Three Gen Zed youths rushed forward and sorted the guitar case and earnings for him. Still he continued to play, whilst us older ones nodded in commendation for the youths, the new bylaws and the busker.

Will Ukraine lose?

The US, Canada, UK and Japan favour confiscating 248 billion Euros of Russian assets in order to bankroll their fight with Russia. The EU control 191 billion of those Euros. The damage to infrastructure in Ukraine is valued at almost 500 billion Euros, and If Ukraine prevails money would be needed for reparation. William Haig in The Times (Feb 20), has argued that the assets are never likely to be returned to Putin's Russia. In what circumstances would that happen? 'If Ukraine were defeated and occupied? If there were a ceasefire, with a constant threat of a new war? If Ukraine survives, joins NATO, and Russia is busy rearming? If Russia is defeated but refuses all compensation for the lives and towns destroyed? In any of those scenarios, would they send hundreds of billions back to Putin or his successor?'

There is a lot of defeatist talk in the West at the start to this third year of the Russian invasion. At the moment Ukraine is short of weapons, but Michael Clarke in The Sunday Times reckons that if the West gets its act together in support of Ukraine, they are far more powerful than the tyrannical nations: Russia, Byelorussia, Syria, North Korea and Iran. Even excluding North America, "the European powers are 12 times richer than Russia, with a population three times greater, five times more aircraft, three times more ships, and three times more armed forces personnel." Geographically, the West has far better access to the air and sea routes that matter. And a report from the Royal United Services Institute explains that there are hidden structural weaknesses in Russia's ability to maintain its present production of military hardware. Clarke writes, "All the West has to do is deliver on its oft repeated promises."

Satnam Singh

The HebWeb Interview: this week I've enjoyed basking in the reflected glory of my interview with our remarkable Sub Postmaster, with one friend labelling him her official Hebden Bridge Hero.

It reminded me of the response to my interview with John Pickering. In their interviews, Satnam and John were keen to praise all the unrecognised people who had helped them along the way.

Watching Breathtaking I thought of the interview with Professor Rebecca Lawton and her work in supporting under-rewarded colleagues in hospitals.

It was calculated this week that the Gallows Pole series added millions to Calderdale Council's coffers, thanks most of all to Ben Myers, that great champion of the North, but also to the local publisher who gave him his break, his director, the wonderful cast and the people who gave up their time and energy to establish the new venture at the old museum in Heptonstall, such as Nicola who has also featured in a cracker of an interview.

Then there was my original interview with Amanda and Debbie Elwen, who have been senior figures in the women's refuge world, but whose Q&A still makes me laugh.

The main point I would make is that all people in this item add to the vibrancy of life in the Upper Valley. So if that description fits someone that you know, why not drop me a line?

And finally …

Local writers have been commissioned to write poems inspired by our railway station before the end of the month. I had a go.

Eva and Adam

The Thompsons are off on a mini break,
Just look at his thousand yard stare
Down the tracks to the vanishing point,
Doesn't he know it's not there?

She's made the arrangements, I reckon,
Not one for illusions is Eva,
Wit' tickets tucked safely inside her bra,
Adam's more like a school leaver.

Sometimes they tour round Cathedrals,
Where folks pray to a guy who's not there.
Perhaps she lights up a candle,
That's the closest they get to a prayer.

Or happen they'll go to the seaside,
Where he might dip his toes in the sea.
But as it's backend of October,
Why he bother's a complete mystery.

Truth be told, it's hardly Majorca,
Three nights in a boutique hotel,
But when they get back from their travels
You'd think they were under a spell.

They look like they're still on a holiday.
That's one thing I can never quite fathom.
And if I chose which drugs to be on,
I'd say, "Same stuff as Eva and Adam."

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