Archives for posts with tag: England

One for the Lord Byron fans, myself included. Anyone interested in his poetry, his life, and his reputation as a bit of a madman will love this article about his family’s estate. There’s an abbey turned country house, a pair of follies, a duel, mock battles, and much more. I was really into the romantics as a teen, until I fell in love with the Victorians when I got older. I still like Byron and Shelley, but Matthew Arnold’s and William Wordsworth’s dramatic, lyrically descriptive poems overtook their longheld place in my heart. Still, I’ve kept imagery conjured by Byron’s Sonnet on Chillon and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage tucked away in its corner of my mind, and still have a big beautiful  framed seascape poster with his “I love not Man the less, but Nature more…” quote at the bottom. A girl’s first poet love lingers for the rest of her life, it seems.

http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/newstead-abbey?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=atlas-page

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Ever drawn to Victoriana, as a writer I was particularly interested in this article about the lives of Victorian writers. Apparently, the writing life dragged a comet tail of hardship in its wake in Dickens’ time, just as it has done since writers started telling stories. It’s difficult to believe that Dickens had no formal education. His writing is as evocative and often heartbreaking today, as it was when he first set pen to paper. Somehow I find it easier to imagine Brontes working as governesses, fitting in their writing as the demands of caring for children not their own allowed. For as long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve found myself imagining favorite authors’ lives, as they gathered ideas and started putting together their famous plots. Articles like this one make that more vivid, and also make me admire them all the more.

Sometimes people will say something to me or near me in such a way that I never forget it. A mundane situation here, an unusual circumstance there, no predicting when or where, each makes me smile whenever I remember.

1. “We can but try.”

This one is from an old British TV commercial. I think it was for spot remover or laundry detergent. A hard working housewife, worn down from a long day of…cleaning spots, and a voice so world weary and resigned that you can’t help sending waves of sympathy to her through the telly. A sigh, a rolling of eyes and she IS you. She is everybody. Wherever you are, whatever you attempt after experiencing that commercial once or a dozen times, you find yourself uttering those words in that exasperated tone. Suddenly you’re back in England, enjoying the block of commercials before your show starts as much as the show itself, and you smile. You did your best. You can but try. You carry on, humming the Benny Hill theme (which is much more difficult than you’d think. Oh well, we can but try).

2. “It wouldn’t be a surprise then, now would it?”

Nestled on the banks of Loch Ness, a small white clapboard building housed a restaurant. One must assume it was frequented by the locals, since it was the only restaurant in sight. Or driving distance. Charmed by my middle aged Scottish waitress, complete with brogans and a brogue as thick as the mists worn by the glowering giant Ben Nevis snugged up almost against the restaurant’s back.

As my dining experience progressed, the veneer of charm wore thin. Beneath her accent my waitress had initially concealed what some might consider a snappish personality that I personally felt was more along the lines of surly. I hate to admit that I was intimidated, but I was. Not at first. Not until the exchange that went like this.

Me (perusing my menu) “This dessert…Ice Cream Surprise…could you tell me what that is”?”

Her (scowling like a lowering loch storm): “Well, if I told you that it wouldn’t be a surprise…(ominous pause, during which I’d swear I heard thunder)…. Now. Would. It?”

Me: “No! Of course not. Sorry. I’ll have that. (I think I threw another “sorry” in right about then) Thank you.”

She sort of sniffed expressively, turned on her heel smartly, and marched away. I waited quite some time, wondering first if she had climbed the frigid looking mountain at her back to retrieve fresh ice to surprise me with. Eventually I started wondering if I could leave some money and sneak away before she delivered my surprise.

I found myself still in my chair, when I heard the pitter patter…clomp…of her brogans, as she approached at last. She plonked a utilitarian white dessert dish down with a strange little flourish, and stood there expectantly.

Finally she could contain her odd mixture of pride, curiosity, and mischief no longer.

“Well? Surprise!”

I looked up from contemplating my glop of melty vanilla ice cream, valiantly attempting to float on a chunky sea of canned…beg pardon…tinned fruit cocktail. I was disappointed, but I didn’t want her to know that. I just knew she’d bellow something scary in that accent I could barely understand, if I showed weakness.
Starting to feel as if I had encountered a female version of The Kurgan, I smiled as valiantly as my ice cream coexisted with its accompanying surprise.

“Thank you. It’s…very nice.”

She nodded, apparently satisfied that I had, indeed, been thoroughly surprised, and clomped away.

I don’t know why I was disappointed. It just seemed too ordinary, I guess, so near the deep, dark waters where Nessie swam across my imagination. What was I expecting? A haggis sundae? Herring a la mode? A Scotch whiskey float?

I think I’d better be grateful for the surprise I got.

3.  “It’s not Nessie!”

Not far from the restaurant there was a museum devoted to Nessie. I thought that was awesome and eagerly went in to see what I could learn. A woman who worked there approached, excited, I thought, to share her knowledge. I thought wrong. This one wasn’t as scary as the waitress, but she was intimidating in her own way.

It soon became apparent that she had either been doing her job for too long or had just finished dealing with the most annoying bus load of tourists ever. Instead of leaping to answer any questions informatively, her grating, high pitched annoyed old lady voice was like a Jack-in-the-Box, jumping forth to shut down any stupid thing a tourist might say. She wasn’t so much an informer of facts as a debunker of myth and mystery.

Her strident battle cry?

“It’s not Nessie!”

Anything she was asked about everything from unusual ripples on the loch surface to suspicious dark shadowy gliding objects would elicit the same bleating response. She was loud too! Nessie herself could have come ashore and crashed through the front window, and all Ms. Negativity would have done was scream even louder that it was not Nessie.

I don’t know what her problem was, but the Nessie Museum experience became a treasured, albeit goofy, memory that sticks with me still.

4. “Did you hear that?”

This whispered question passed between my two Australian companions before a day’s outing. One was a friend of mine, an experienced traveler familiar with “exotic” accents. The other was a friend of hers who obviously had not met many, if any, Americans.

The “that” in question was my pronunciation of the freaking out girl’s name. I’ve always liked the name Jennifer. Now I can’t hear it without thinking of how it amused, thrilled, and halfway awed someone unaccustomed to hearing the Aussie dropped letter R. To me it was Jenn-eh-fur. To its owner it was Jenn-eh-fuh. Vocally, that one letter makes a world of difference.

I totally sympathized. The Australian accent is cool and exotic to me. So I understood what was setting her off. That did not stop me from feeling as if I had become an unwitting performer in a stage play for one. She giggled uncontrollably every single time I found her dropped R. In a way it was charming…for a few hours. Over the course of a day of shopping, lunching, and sightseeing it became tedious.

Over time it’s become a fond memory. Of course now part of my brain hears an echoing giggle every time the extremely common name Jennifer is uttered in my presence.

5. “Howzit, sistahs?”

Somehow it was quite some time before I came to know about Hawaiian Pidgin. I heard what my mainlander ears thought they were supposed to hear, even when they did not.

Early on I was shopping with a friend when a shoe salesman greeted one of us with a hearty “Howzit, sistahs?” On the mainland that would translate into something like “Hi, how are you?”. We thought he was saying we looked like sisters and proceeded to have an exclamation point infested conversation about how weird that was. Much later I proceeded to be embarrassed and wonder how he managed not to laugh at us. Very professional of him. Who knows? Maybe it happened so much that he did it on purpose for amusement to break up the tedium. I hope he was chuckling still the next time he tried to fit a size ten dowager in a muumuu with a size eight.

I’m sure there are more of these memorable moment moments tucked away in the back of my brain. I seem to attract strange incidents wherever I
go. It can make for some awkward situations, but also provide priceless souvenirs.

Obviously I didn’t really photograph Wuthering Heights, the lonesome place where Heathcliff brooded in Emily Bronte’s classic novel. I did manage the next best thing.

Almost.

I’ve heard that there is a ruin far across the Yorkshire moors near the Bronte Parsonage that was Emily Bronte’s real life inspiration. Not being the tramp across wet, misty desolate areas type, I’m afraid I can’t say if it’s true. Instead, I’ll imagine it so, along with a shadowy figure roaming its confines…a darkly romantic Heathcliff…shimmering in the place where words and imagination meet.

What I did find was the Bronte Parsonage, where Emily lived with her parents, sisters, and brother.

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As in much of Europe, a person can stand before the well aged two story brick building, and easily imagine the long ago literary legends going about their daily lives. Such places seem caught in a bubble of history and time. Seeing them is like observing the past, with an eerie feeling that a single step forward could take you there.

I lingered, memorizing both the way the house looked and how it felt to know they had played as children exactly where I stood. I turned away, and searched the view in all directions as far as I could see. I was not sure what I was looking for. I just knew I did not want the experience to be over.

There was a footpath made of roughly square stepping stones not far from the parsonage. I started along it, thinking I might at least see a bit of the area that would have been familiar to the Brontes.

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It led me toward a cluster of quaint, if nondescript houses. Charming, but not what I was hoping for. A little further. Nothing memorable or exciting. A few more steps, still searching with a kind of interior desperation borne of too much imagination and not quite enough to adequately feed it. Just as I was about to give up…turn away…leave the Brontes behind…I saw this….

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The close confines of the small city that was Bronte central–Haworth–opened up suddenly. Miraculously, instead of plain houses and pretty vegetation, there lay what to my minds eye was the very moor that Heathcliff galloped across on his way to the dark reaches where Wuthering Heights waited for him.

My imagination galloped wildly with him. I stared and stared, captivated by the mentally superimposed image of a silhouetted figure, hair and coattails flying, his horse’s hooves churning the rough ground, as he raced away from heartache toward his refuge. Wild and free, just like the moor.

I had to walk away for real eventually. If not for the threat of wild weather that matched the temperament of the moors, I might have stood there until dark came. In a way I wanted desperately to strike out across that green grass and up the hill. I needed to know whether going far enough would take me to that ruin that lived in maybe. Even more I needed to not know, though. I needed the ruin to stay where it was. Firmly in my imagination where the disappointment of discovering it did not exist couldn’t touch it.

So now when I see the picture I took, as the wind and a few raindrops blew in from the unknown realm of Wuthering Heights, my mind’s eye shows me still that far beyond the hill, deep into the mysterious depths of Emily Bronte’s imagination lies a solitary remnant of Wuthering Heights, waiting for the master she gave it to come in from the rain.