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Fourth series, episode 7

All 139 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

In this episode there's a makeover man, a plea for Ukraine, a magnolia tree, parties and mini breaks, thugs in suits, local heroes, Pecket Well and a poetry challenge.

After the rain the sun

Suits you, sir

One day, I saw a guy in town wearing a tan coloured, white buttoned suit, and thought I'd like to make a fashion statement as bold as his, eye catching and swish; a get-up no one else was got up in. I found what I was looking for in a local charity shop and mentioned my scoop to the elderly charity worker who was writing the price tags for the men's wear.

"What a bargain – and it's only six pounds!"

The old chap must have thought it too garish for his tastes but he bravely attempted a nod and a smile.

A week later we were returning from a break and PW found us a stopover in a pub with a view, on the southern edge of the Dark Peaks. We arrived behind schedule, but I held back in our room while she nipped down to the restaurant, to grab a table. That's when I got my new suit out of my bag, thinking I'd surprise her with my striking new soft cotton jacket, a black number covered with squares bordered with yellow. There was a snag with the fastening on the trousers, so I stuck with my dark blue chinos and, having driven all day, I rewarded my feet by slipping them into a pair of slippers.

A few heads turned in the restaurant as I strode in and sat opposite dearly beloved, who took in my new gear as I sipped from the pint she'd ordered for me. After I announced, "I needed that," she said, "Describe the trousers you bought with that top."

"Same pattern, yeah… but with a trendy drawstring fastening … only the string has temporarily disappeared into the garment so I couldn't sport the full combo for your delectation, Kate. But guess what? It was only six pounds from the greyhound rescue shop!"

She looked around the neighbouring tables and stared down a naff 'smart casual' couple who seemed to be quietly entertained by my arrival, before leaning forward and whispering, "Thank god you didn't put the trousers on."

"How come?"

"Because you didn't buy a suit. You bought a pair of pyjamas."

What I'm thinking

Each morning, Facebook asks what I'm thinking. These days I'm thinking of the Ukrainians and the supportive Hebden Bridge families who have taken them into their homes. America, whose soldiers have featured in so many films as they fought against tyrants, has retreated into itself again. Once more, a Democratic President has been hijacked by Republican Congressmen playing what they think is their Trump card. In the brief perestroika of Gorbachev's Russia, Ukraine handed its nuclear weapons back to Moscow. Now the west is allowing Ukrainian soldiers to be gassed and blasted by an invading Russian army.

Beetle juice

In the park, a magnificent magnolia is shedding its leaves. Magnolias are the earliest known flowering plant species, with fossils dating back a hundred million years. They predate bees, so the trees depend on beetles to spread their pollen.

Party time

Last week we drove stop-start down the M6 to our friend Dave's 70th birthday party in Telford. His house was packed with family and friends of all ages. Old acquaintance Paul told me he must have heard my story of Leah's dead cat retold by Dave or his brother Pete five times whilst out on their walks.

Telford New Town – covering more than twice the area of Calderdale - is a remarkable, unsung success, and a misnomer. It's not really a town, it's a constellation of old towns and villages connected by motorways and footpaths. Telford has been labelled 'The Forest City,' with over 15 million trees planted in recent years. Its woods are dotted with remnants of the early industrial revolution, slag heaps and quarries which have been rewilded into ponds and hummocky nature reserves. A centre piece is the world's first iron bridge, which stretches in a single span over the River Severn. It was designed by Thomas Telford, who was known as the Colossus of Roads in his native Scotland, and is immortalised nowadays in the name of a Shropshire New Town.

Mini break

After Dave's party, freed from cares and caring for a weekend, PW booked us into an expensive room in Chipping Camden, with a private terrace and a Super King-size bed. The massive mattress allowed us each to snuffle, fidget and snore to our hearts content, without so much as a reprimanding 'Tut' from the distant partner. Breakfasts were delivered to our rooms, and in the evening we fine dined at marble floored Cotswold House with a view through French windows of a long walled garden with blossom trees on either side.

It wasn't until the 90s that we first discovered the Cotswolds, and before then I'd never imagined that cottages could be honey coloured. We strolled around the handsome High Street and then selected our pick of the thatched million pound mullioned cottages and villas along chirpily named Backends, where an ex pat Geordie woman greeted us. We told her she was the first person to talk to us on our stroll. This allowed the three of us to conclude how much friendlier we northerners are, although actually in every shop and bar we'd entered the workers were pleasant and attentive. I remembered a saying from my schooldays that "England's economy rode on the sheep's back." Beyond the houses and pretty gardens, sloping, hawthorn edged fields resounded with the cries of this year's lambs.

On Sunday, Kate did the rounds of the tourist shops, whilst I nipped off to the packed Yeoman pub to join locals, none of whom had plums in their mouths, to watch the two soccer teams I slightly support fight out a thrilling draw. A Liverpool supporter with a Brummie accent heard the dregs of my semi scouse accent and told me how much he hated Man United. So I put him right. In 1958 I was playing with my fort and miniature soldiers when news of the Munich air crash flashed up on the telly. So I've always followed both teams, and Everton too when they're worth watching. But United were my first love. It turned out that Brummie guy took to following Liverpool (as well as West Brom) after the Hillsborough disaster. And during a halt in the breathless proceedings on the telly, he whispered to me that Georgie Best was the best player he'd ever seen.

Thugs in Suits

Watching Mr Bates versus The Post Office, I was naturally impressed by the sacked sub postmaster's dedication to exposing the truth, not just for himself but for all his wronged colleagues. When the Post Office sent in their 'thugs in suits' he immediately stood up to them. They described him as 'unmanageable'. Uncowed, more like.

There's a Kafkaesque character to the Post Office affair. The state put its faith in technology and big business and allowed the courts to ruin the lives of decent people. As for the company, well paid executives were warned after an internal investigation that Horizon was faulty, but decided to 'protect the corporate brand,' rather than their own employees.
One aspect of the week's proceedings reminded me of my HebWeb Interview with John Pickering, the solicitor who sought compensation for those who worked with asbestos. Before a compensation hearing, a rogue firm was slow in delivering vital documents. They eventually sent a lorry load of files at the eleventh hour, in an effort to delay court proceedings. This month the current management of The Post Office delayed the calling of witnesses to the enquiry by using the same tactic.

Walks around Pecket Well

Alan Bates once lived in Pecket Well, but what would we have done if he hadn't moved to North Wales to become a postmaster? John Pickering cycled through Pecket on to Old Town and wondered why workers at Acre Mill had made so few claims compared with other factory workers. In later years John had established that the mill was the site of Britain's greatest ever industrial tragedy.

Last week I met my storytelling friend Paul Degnan who gave me a copy of Walks around Pecket Well. Pecket is famous for its spectacular views and the brochure includes treks around the tops, devised by Paul, Richard Thurlow and Ginny Feeney.

Thirty Poems in Thirty Days

A Sketchbook by Amanda Dalton (Arc publications, 2021)

In 2020, local poet Amanda participated in National Poetry Month, writing a poem a day during April. In my last episode I included one of her poems which was inspired by a quote from a Sylvia Plath poem. On Day 23, the task was to write a poem About a particular letter of the alphabet, or more than one

Claire responded to the printed shape of each letter of the alphabet, starting with …

  • A - the sharpened fingertip of a witch.
  • B - breasts from above or shoes peeping out of a curtain

Further responses included, Y – unzipped at the neck

I contacted Amanda and she thought it would be great to let readers of HebWeb have a go at writing their own responses to letters.


Thanks to John Tattersall, for advice on the terminology to use when describing ethnic cleansing in post war Palestine.

Pete Jackson: I will listen to the Radio Four series on pollution from Stanlow Oil Refinery during our childhoods in Ellesmere Port.

Thanks also to a nice guy at our local Co-op for confiding that he welled up when reading Linda Hodges's account of first meeting her new father in my recent interview. He wasn't the only one!

Thanks also to the lovely people who individually congratulated me after my performance on the downstairs stage at Golden Lion last week. I'd actually gone to meet a guitarist mate who didn't turn up. A little encouragement goes a long way.

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