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Fourth series, episode 8

All 140 episodes are available here on the HebWeb.

The latest episode includes death and the devil, who was working class, what they ate and did they have a mangle, howlers, gaffes and April fools, funerals, wet weather, Flanders and Swann and Norky on Cwop Am Tea.

Parting is such sweet sorrow 

A few years back, PW asked what funeral arrangements I'd like. In particular, where would I like my ashes to be spread? She was reading a Singles Cruises brochure at the time. I said, "Choose a beautiful cove somewhere and carry my ashes out into the sea." Still reading her brochure, dearly beloved said, "You can bugger off; I'm not getting soaked." 

I had visions of her tossing my remains into the Med from a Saga Cruise ship. More likely, I'll end up in the garden with the cats. That same week, a woman gave me a handout on the Pushing Up Daisies Festival in Todmorden and said, "You're never too young to go!"

Recently, PW told friends that Darling Daughter has warned her, "Don't die before dad. I don't want to end up looking after him and Jude." And this despite me making her a cuppa every time she calls round. And, I can't count the number of clapped-out cars I've passed onto our lass over the years! 

Ashes to ashes 

About this time of year, Jude asks me to take him to Hardcastle Crags. He wants to think of his Nanna, whose ashes I once spread just below the main track to Gibson Mill. When I drop him off he has a cig in her honour.  

My mother-in-law smoked all her life, as did her husband Tommy who spent 48 years working in the mines, some of it under the North Sea. I didn't throw all Margaret's ashes into a mass of bluebells. PW spread the rest of her on Tommy's grave in Bowburn, County Durham.  Then worried that he might have cursed her ever since.  

This new law on banning cigs to people born after 2009, how's it going to work in practice? In Private Eye, there's a cartoon set many years in the future, where two pensioners go to buy a packet of twenty and have to show their ID to the young assistant.  

The price of industry 

In the years after the war, the average working man in the industrial north died by the age of 59. Smoke belched out of every mill and household chimney.  It was the smog in London in the 50s, when industry and chimney smoke led to pea soupers, that eventually led to the Clean Air acts. 

The weather 

April has been the cruellest month, because we were hoping it would be better than sodden March, pardon my French. But let us find cheer in the lyrics of Flanders and Swann: 

April brings the sweet spring showers  
On and on for hours and hours . 
Farmers fear unkindly May,   
Frost by night and hail by day.  
June just rains and never stops 
Thirty days and spoils the crops.  
In July the sun is hot. 
Is it shining? No it's not. 
August cold and dank and wet 
Brings more rain than any yet. 

Shaggy Dogs  

The Stubbing Wharf storytellers are gathering a decent and amiable crowd together on the last Friday of each month. In its heyday before lockdown, it was charging £7 entry. Now it's free. Fans of folklore are joined by tourists and a smattering of well-known tellers who come to watch other tellers break a leg. Last week, I didn't have a tale ready. So I wrote a rhyme ... 

Talk of the devil 

When I walked out one evening, 
I met the devil on the way. 
He raised his hat above his horns 
And politely said, "Good Day." 
We walk on past a road sign. 
I said, "That sign's rather odd. 
It's pointing East to Todmorden, 
That is not the way to Tod!" 
The Devil laughed at my response,  
Found it slightly hysterical. 
'That's just the longer way, old boy. 
This world of ours is spherical." 
Walking on by the old canal, 
He said, 'What a beautiful day.' 
But as we neared the Trades Club, 
Can you guess what we heard play? 
Yes: Sympathy for the Devil. 
And then he started to swagger, 
Dancing in spite of his hooves, 
He was moving like Mick Jagger. 
As the music slowly faded 
We lingered at Black Pit Lock, 
Resting on the horses head bench. 
And the Devil said, 'Knock, Knock.' 
'Who goes there?' I  responded. 
He said, 'That's for you to decide.' 
That's when I took a funny turn, 
And I felt quite mesmerised … 
'A shire horse waits beside the lock 
The bargee's name is Peter. 
His lover awaits him at the pub, 
Happen her name is …  
'Her barge set off from Manchester, 
And Peter set off from Leeds. 
She's moored up at the Stubbing Wharf  
And a shire horse she feeds...' 
'Well, that's a start,' old boy he said. 
'But listen, dear chap, just  a thought: 
Stories will only satisfy 
If  cruel devils have been fought! 
He led me to the aqueduct 
Where the Calder and Hebden meet 
A Siren sang from the whirlpool, 
Her singing was strong and sweet. 
Her song's been sung since ancient times - 
Across Europe, it's often said. 
Her lover looked  from the parapet, 
He was stoney faced.  And dead. 
I cried, 'I will tell her tale again! 
Wear a wig, despite my beard.' 
But when I looked around for him, 
The Devil had disappeared. 
As I walked to the story club, 
The devil was on good behaviour. 
In stories old and new he dwells, 
He is the storyteller's saviour. 

Were you working class? 

I devised an unscientific test to see if my social media Friends had once been working class: 

Did you ever:  

  • Eat rice pudding from a tin? 
  • Bread and butter pudding using stale bread? 
  • Sugar butties with taste free bread? 
  • Own a mangle? 
  • Did your dad get a weekly wage? 

Readers Replied:

Beth Rolyat from Shropshire, 'I got a weekly wage – brown envelope on the Sainsbury's cheese counter. The interview consisted of me having to estimate 250g of various cheeses.' 

Mmm … Sounds like one of those student jobs. PW was once asked to be a Strawberry Queen in the window display of Duttons in Chester.  

Alison O'brien of this parish wrote, 'Working class, Granny and Mam made a rice pudding in the oven with a caramel coloured skin on it, cheaper than a tin. The mangle was in the cellar and the outside toilet smelled of whitewash paint. 

To which Roger Munday, from up on t' tops responded, "Alison O'brien baked rice pudding – check (fighting over who scraped the bowl); mangle check; outside toilet  - check – though the whitewash never seemed to stay on for long, and came off on your clothes, along with the cobwebs." 

Pat Greenwood from along the way: "Don't forget the san izal non-absorbent toilet paper."

This conversation seemed to have taken a U turn round a U bend. I felt quite upper WC about our indoor WC. 

Roger responded, 'Pat Greenwood, Imagine if it was Andrex soft in a damp outside lav!' 

In PW's miners' cottage, they used a potty overnight. PW was the only one who insisted on going to the outside loo – whatever the weather. 

Back to food, Dorothy Sadowski wrote, "Dad's signature dish, cheese and egg baked in the oven. Our tele had a slot on the back for tanners, and every month the tele man would come and empty it."

Singer Charissa Elizabeth of Haworth admitted, "My father was a doctor, a hospital Consultant, I went to a private school." Greg Nixon, from Rastrick, said his parents were from a similar medical type background. He didn't know sugar butties existed. 

Mike Shillabeer, "Regularly took sugar sandwiches and dripping sandwiches for lunch at school. We also had torn pieces of newspaper on a nail on the outside toilet. We never felt poor."

I wrote, "I felt poor when we hid behind the settee when the rent man called."

Mike responded, 'It was the County Court judgements in our case.' 

Glenda George, once of Foster Clough, wrote, "Our rice puddings were always homemade and maybe our sugar butties were a cut above since it was light brown sugar within. But … everything else yes, yes and yes …"

Glenda's grandad was a proper Cockney, but her mum made her speak 'proper English.' Which is why she reckons she's always sounded RP. 

Folksinger Brian Toberman wrote, 'Yes … Yes … and Yes.' 

I had enquired if anyone ate regional dishes. Haworth resident, but "of County Durham working class stock," singer Ian Dobson sent me the music to the Peace Pudding song, after I mentioned that no one except the Geordies ate the strange looking concoction at our wedding, thinking perhaps it had been in the pot four days old. 

Dave Boardman, wrote "All of the above (except Scouse instead of Geordie food), plus secondary modern education and bomb sites for playground, left school before my sixteenth birthday, worked for 50 years and never forgot my pride in the working class."

Snap! to the sec mod - and the scouse. 

The mellifluously voiced, globetrotting Giles Abbott, one of the storytelling stars of his generation, wrote from the deep south: "Middle class but rice pudding from a tin? Yep. Bread and butter from stale bread? Yep. Condensed milk on toast, anyone? My dad, tiny farm, horses. My mother, grew up in a disused cobbler's workshop in Midlands, corrugated iron roof, earth floor, no electricity, no plumbing, water from a well full of snails, homework by hurricane lamp until she went to college. But to hear her reminisce about it you'd think it was Paradise." 

Wow. Rural poverty. 

Our own Sarah Courtney chipped in … "Yes all of these … but defo middle class. I remember sugar butties (white bread and sugar) and also drinking chocolate powder sandwiches.' Liz Dykes was also middle class except for 'sugar butties and weekly wage.' 

New FB pal, Trish Potter wrote, "cold custard from a tin is one of my faves!" I admitted that my condemned man meal would be a chip butty. Trish replied, "ohh with plenty of real butter on the bun?" 

Yes! the only way to go. 

Mytholmroyd councillor, Scott Archer-Patient wound up proceedings with "My Nan had a mangle and used to make the best bread and butter pudding. I have her recipe, it's magnificent. I can still devour a tin of rice pudding straight from the tin. My daughter reliably tells me we have crossed the class threshold though much to my horror."

Howlers and gaffes 

Last week, Policing Minister Chris Philp asked an African student in the Question Time audience if Rwanda and The Congo were separate countries. Ouch. Jeremy Hunt, when he was Foreign Secretary, forgot his wife was Chinese. It's best to own up when these things happen. Except if you are Joe Biden or can skilfully get away with it.  

I once asked a mum at a party with two of her sprogs, "When's the next happy event going to be?" She'd put on a belly bulge since I'd last seen her.

What do you mean?" she replied, fiercely. Thinking on my feet, I said, 'I meant are you having a party at Christmas?'   

Brilliant! Especially as Christmas wasn't far off. I think I got away with it, though PW wasn't convinced.  

I suppose that wasn't a schoolboy howler, just an embarrassing gaffe. In fact we must forgive children their social mistakes if they are not meaning to be cruel. Darling daughter once asked which two people had a moustache at our dining table. She said, "Dad and Sarah!" The latter was a proudly hirsute feminist professor, but fell unexpectedly silent and cowed. I regret hurrying Leah into the kitchen to give her a quiet reprimand she didn't deserve or understand.  

A friend told me that on a visit with her kids to her sister down in London, her yoga tutor sister told her nieces they must use proud terms to describe their female parts. Next day the youngest piped up on a packed tube train, "Excuse me Miss, could you please move your fanny away from my face?"

As for howlers, my friend Dave wrote in to suggest I'd made one over a bridge I featured in the last episode. But no!  

I remember that bridge very well, and the pub on the other side of the broad rushing Severn, where we spent a lovely day with our wives one summer. Of course it wasn't the first Iron Bridge in those parts. 

Was I at fault for suggesting that Thomas Telford designed the first iron bridge, and not Abram Darby? It's an easy mistake to make when Thomas gave his name to the new town. Had I made a howler?  

I sent Dave a note, as he hopped around the Balkans (Having damaged a leg hiding Easter eggs for his grandchildren in his garden, always a dangerous activity), to suggest my comment on Iron Bridge might not have been a gaffe. Perhaps it was a rather sophisticated April Fool's joke!  

As if I'd make such a gaffe! 

Alphabet challenge 

Not surprised there weren't any successful attempts on the Thirty Poems in Thirty Days challenge to write a response to the letter shapes in the alphabet, as Amanda Dalton's published version (Arc publications, 2021) was so witty, and closed the book on any rivals. Readers, it would probably be easier to make a narrative using up each letter of the alphabet in order. Starting perhaps with … 

A dad! 
Eee the F for G! 
What effigy? 
That woman next door.  
That's Mrs H doing her yoga. She's my friend .. 
I I 

Cwop Am Tea 

Finally, here's a song from Shaggy Dog's Norky. Norky (Peter Northcliffe) usually resides on the other side of the motorway. Cwop Am Tea (Co-op Ham and Tea) is what the Co-op Funeral Service used to provide during a funeral wake. It was passed down through the generations and sung in music hall shows. Here's a video from him from Norky's Rambles, from the website magazine, Yorkshire Bylines. 


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