Thursday, 31 January 2019
This is number five of a regular column from local writer and story-teller, George Murphy.
Murphy’s Lore 5
Banks do a bunk
The banks have left Hebden Bridge. We bailed them out and then they sailed off. The black horse has bolted. The listening bank is deaf. The Halifax gives a little less. The Yorkshire doesn’t care about here.
Dead cat bounce
Leah's poorly cat Denzil ‘passed on’ at the Vets - helped on his way by a lethal injection. Next day I gathered his stiff and slightly smelly corpse from her shed and set off to give him a proper burial. He was wrapped in an old towel - which she didn’t want back.
It was turning dark under the overhanging trees as I walked along Heights Road with Denzil and spade. Feeling as dodgy as a badger baiter in the headlights of the rat run commuters, I panicked and tossed the wrapped up moggy towards the intended graveyard, a wooded delph below the road, thinking to return in the morning. The towel sailed off in ghostly fashion, but Denzil landed near my feet. I nudged him forward with my foot, not wanting to pick up his rancid corpse. He stuck on a fringe of grass overhanging the abyss.
I was all ready to set off at the crack of 9 o’ clock the next day when Leah rang. She’d had a call from the vets. ‘Miss Murphy! Someone's brought a cat in. They say he's been run over on Heights Road…the name on his collar is Denzil!’
In the health food store on Crown Street my cover is blown by a good humoured customer in a bold red hat with proper ear muffs. She introduces me to Madelaine, the young shop assistant whose views on local banking have just been aired in The Guardian.
Madelaine says, ‘Murphy’s Law: the everything that can go wrong will go wrong man!’
Walking home in the snow, I think Madelaine’s description isn’t so bad. I remember Bill Connor’s pen name in the Daily Mirror was Cassandra, the mythical prophet of doom. After the Second World War, Cassandra’s first article back in Fleet Street began, ‘As I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted…’
Running with Beauty
My father in law had a sleek black mongrel called Beauty. Beauty often joined me on training runs over the humps and hills and around Durham city - loping along a respectful one yard behind me all the way. I pretended she was Alan Blinston, a bespectacled 5000 metres runner from Altrincham A.C. She always let me win the sprint finish to the lamp post beside her miner’s cottage home. I was running with Beauty through a neighbouring pit village one time when, looking back, I was surprised to see a line of dogs of assorted breeds and sizes running in her wake.
In the past, working people often survived without bank accounts. Men were paid cash in hand and Pay Day was often followed by Booze Night. If my dad wasn’t home by 7, mum walked to the Cheshire Cat and waited outside till someone sent him out with what was left of his pay. No doubt the smile quickly vanished from his face.
Mum’s second husband, Michael, was a gentle, hapless soul; so poor at feeding himself after mum died that he ended up with scurvy. One day he was visited by a truckload of Scouse handymen who offered to tidy his front garden for him. They cut the grass, trimmed the bushes and then asked him for £700.
Michael got the money from under his mattress, money he’d been saving from his weekly pension to pass on as a gift to mum’s grandchildren. One day the gardeners returned when Michael was out and took the rest of his £10,000 life’s savings.
*Warning asterisk: those with a strong visual imagination should look away at these points.
One Saturday morning in the 80s, their daughter playing in the woods and fields with older mates, the sun pouring through their window, a couple decided it would be the decent thing to engage in what their friends called a Ration of Passion, or ‘R.O.P.’ So they went back to bed. But just as they were remembering what went where, their neighbour Chris banged on the front door.
The comely wife said, ‘He’s returning our key. He might come in! Go and put the bolt on the door!’
Her handsome husband (HH) pulled on some *tight fitting underpants and ran downstairs, crawled across the front room and reached up to bolt the front door just as he heard Chris unlocking the back door.
HH quickly gathered the previous day’s Guardian around his *lower portions as Chris appeared in the front room.
By way of explanation, HH said, ‘The cat’s been sick!’
HH and Chris turned and looked at the cat. Never has a cat looked more healthy and reposeful than little black cat Milly, blissfully dozing in her basket, but HH strode boldly across the room *in his jockey shorts, grabbed the startled cat, unbolted the front door and dropped her outside.
Home for dinner
When she was at secondary school, Kath went home for dinner. One dinner time, her mum looked out of the kitchen window and said, ‘Here’s Tommy back from the pit. Eee, I hope he’s not on strike again!’
Tommy came in and sat down without saying anything and started fiercely rubbing Beauty’s flanks.
Kath said, ‘Right, I’m off.’
Tommy stood up and said, ‘No. Don’t go to school. Come for a walk with me.’
They ended up at the slag heap, where Tommy picked up one of the trays left by local lads from the game they had of sliding down the tip. The two of them had a go, laughing and shouting as they zoomed down, with a bewildered Beauty barking behind them.
Then, getting her breath back, Kath said, ‘Right dad, what’s going on? Why are you home?’
He told her there’d been an accident at the pit. He’d been with his 'marra' big Jackie, putting chocks in to support the props along the new seam, when there was a rock fall and it landed on Jackie’s back. Tommy held his hand, while they tried to bring some lifting gear, but there was half a mile of rock on top of him and there was no surviving that.
Afterwards, they sent Tommy home. Officials set off to tell Jackie’s wife.
If you would like to send a message about this piece or suggest ideas, email George Murphy