And Charlotte sighs

Reality is fickle.

The day is warm, the breeze light to non-existent. Technology tells us we’ve arrived at our destination. But technology is wrong, bamboozled by forces beyond its ken.

A woman with bright red lipstick, walking a dog, stops and bends to my open widow.

‘Are you lost, love?’

Turn around in the cul de sac. Back the way we came. Turn right past the Cenotaph. Then follow the signs. To Wykoller.

Behind us, a view I don’t see as very ‘Brontë’. Pendle Hill, made infamous by the 17th century Lancashire witch trials

Now this, the other side, is more of a Bronte view, don't you think?

Now this, the other side, is more of a Bronte view, don’t you think?

Odd, that. The signs not looking our way. Showing their faces only to those who’ve reached the end – and not found it. Weeding out the faint-hearted.

The large car park is mostly empty. Clumps of tough grass have breached the pale grey crust of ageing tarmac. Reclamation by nature is well underway.

A path descends to the village, separated from the road by a dry stone wall. Separated from the fields by – a dry stone wall.

Nettles, dull breeding grounds for gorgeous butterflies, reach out for careless fingers to sting.

Hawthorn berries are still bitter green, with a tinge of ripening russet.

And there, a wild rose grows, fragile and pink. ‘Charlotte’s rose’, for me, evermore.

I can’t resist. Out with the camera.  A picture, just because.

The wind picks up. Blossom, leaves, stem all dance to its tune.

I wait. But it’s no good.

I put the camera away. And the wind abates.

Oh, well. I shrug and we walk on down the hill. But there’s another Charlotte’s rose.

Out with the camera, again.

In the stillness of middle day, a mischievous wind arises. I give up, with another shrug. Put the camera back in hiding.

WP_20160716_15_09_27_ProAn ancient bridge, a ford, a stream. That tea brown, shallow water. Has it flowed down here from Brontë Falls?

A cloud of midges, riding a sunbeam, dithers over the opposite bank.

And there, beyond the trees, across the ford, over the bridge and tea brown water, it is: the ruin.

‘Last night I dreamt I went to …’?

No, not that one.

Perhaps it’s the empty shell, the fire-blackened ruin that signified doom – and liberation – for Mr Rochester?


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It isn’t.

But the house that now lies desolate, in ruins, was, they say, the model for ‘Ferndean’. The house in which they lived, dear reader, after she married him. Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester.

The path across the bridge is worn deep into ruts by the passing of many feet.

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Trees encroach upon the old hall. A heroic fireplace stands proud in the empty, roofless chamber. Children scramble on the ‘do not climb’ masonry.

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An air of tranquillity – and, perhaps, resignation – permeates the one-time home.

Recklessly lost by a gambler, part ruined, used as a hunting lodge. But never, it would seem, a truly happy place.

A barn contains displays, the history of the hall’s building and decay. The local village’s rise to prosperity thanks to weavers of wool, its decline thanks to the steam-powered looms.

A lone volunteer wipes the bat dung from benches.

‘They eat the midges,’ she says.

Those tiny insects with their insidious bites, not felt till after – and then long after.

‘A midge of a woman…’ says a gossip, of Jane Eyre. Words put into his mouth by Charlotte as the stranger describes Jane, incognito, to herself.

The one-time governess is now an heiress, of independent means. Returning, seeking news of Mr Rochester. Not knowing what she might find.

But what a miserable description. In so many ways.

A midge of a woman.

Was this Charlotte, using the voice of a fictional stranger, to describe how she thought others saw her? I wonder. I’m sure some scholar knows.

Midges aside, the tiny village around the hall is charming, but offers few amenities. A tea room, though, is one.

Inside, a small gift shop sells spells, potions and incantations. We are after all on the trail of those poor maligned creatures, the Lancashire witches.

Despite the dark interior, the place feels good. Homely. Welcoming.WP_20160716_15_14_32_Pro

We order giant crumpets with Lancashire cheese. And tea.

Outside again, we stroll over the bridge, gaze up the path to Haworth. Nine miles too far away.

We head back up the hill.


The green of a damp valley




Summer in Lancashire….



The camera’s in my hand when another pale pink Charlotte’s rose entices me to stop.

As I point the lens, the wind rustles through the undergrowth and the roses shudder.

Charlotte doesn’t want her roses captured. It’s her sigh from beyond the grave, this gentle wind.

No, I don’t really think she’s here and haunting. But there may be some lingering magic.

After all, it is a hidden valley.

And, possibly, bewitched.

Witch way?

Witch way?

The whole Wykoller area, its landscape and the village’s treasures, are one more thing under threat thanks to ‘austerity’ measures, in this case cuts to local council funding, in Britain. Lancashire County Council has to find a new guardian for the house, barn, car parks and landscape by 2018. The cuts are already biting :

Notice in one of the car parks

Notice in one of the car parks

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Flying down to Rio Part III. A Beetle, Jesus and crabs

By the sink in my bathroom sits a small paper bag containing pills. Lomotil, they’re called.  A gift from an American colleague’s wife.

Thanks to them, I no longer need to visit the bathroom several times a night, every night. But the bugs are still sticking pins in my abdomen.

I would eat something different for dinner, but beef’s really all there is. And if it’s the caipirinhas – well, forget it. I need the stress relief.

Yes, I know, I’m in Rio, but it’s no holiday. Most days I’m out at the swamp  – sorry, exhibition centre – well before 7 am, ready for another day brimming with challenges.

Today, Sandra has a meeting in town, so I’m default driver. The Americans with us don’t like ‘stick-shifts’, I’m told. But, unlike me, the poor American chap in the passenger seat, does drive on the right …

‘Watch out!’ He yells. But it’s too late.

Taxi drivers gather. Someone winkles me out, reverses the car into the hotel car park.

The almighty bang that shot me sideways – yes, I was wearing my seat belt – hasn’t done any permanent damage to me. Just to the Beetle. But my already fragile morale shatters into a thousand pieces the moment the sympathy starts.

Tears flow like British summer rain. My shoulder hurts a bit, but my ego hurts a lot.

And it gets worse.

  1. I wasn’t insured to drive the Beetle (I didn’t know).
  2. Accidents have to be reported, in person, by the driver, at the police offices.
  3. A vast pool of witnesses saw me drive out into the traffic looking the wrong way.


  1. I’m just a British female. Not a memorable, girl-from-Ipanema female.
  2. Sandra has the same colour hair as me.

Sandra queues, reports the accident. Saves my bacon.

Which is yet another reason why, sitting around the pool on a welcome Sunday off, I’m staring at her in admiration.

She’s so cool, so calm, so – different from me. And she’s organised a visit from a gem dealer.

I gawp at emeralds.  She buys them.

I gave my mum the teardrop shaped one, she never had it mounted. A jeweller in Shaftesbury, Dorset, turned the triangular one into a silver ring which became known as 'the ring of power'. Worn at important meetings, it was supposed to boost my confidence.

I gave my mum the teardrop shaped one, she never had it mounted. A jeweller in Shaftesbury, Dorset, turned the triangular one into a silver ring which became known as ‘the ring of power’. Worn at important meetings, it was supposed to boost my confidence.

I buy some pretty smoky quartz. Beautifully cut (I’m told). And cheap.

I thought I threw this away last year, but apparently not! Sentimental fool am I...

I thought I threw this away last year, but apparently not! Sentimental fool am I…

We visit a hippy market. I buy a sarong made of coarse, tie-dyed cotton.

It makes me feel better  around the pool (yes, I followed Sandra’s lead,  started wearing heels, but heels don’t hide thighs.)

I also buy a wooden sculpture of Jesus.


I think it’s the sun.

Or gratitude.

Or maybe the shock, lingering.


One thing at least is working out well. What with running around the site, the tummy bug and dawn swims, I’ve lost a load of weight.

Guys at the exhibition are chatting me up. One’s rather nice.

I accept an invitation to dinner. At a very smart restaurant. Top floor of a tower, view of a world-famous beach at dusk.

Pudding comes with a sparkler – I’ve never seen anything like it.

But then I make a big mistake. I go back with him to his hotel.

I know, I know!  It sounds stupid. But it’s still early, where else are we going to go? And every night we all congregate at our hotels, so it seems quite normal…

It’s a really bad idea.

Suffice it to say he’s expecting payback for the fancy meal. Doesn’t get it. Sends me back across Rio, alone, in a taxi.

Apparently no-one sends foreign females home alone in taxis. But I survive.

[Look into the crystal ball: his boss tells him off for his presumption. Back home, he takes me out. He’s a cute little chap with a cute little sports car, but, actually, not my type. The End.]

On safer ground, I make a new female friend, from the Boston office. Let’s call her Betsy.

We get on really well. So well, she confides something really very personal.

I wish she hadn’t.

You see, I’ve had quite a sheltered upbringing.

Apart from a girl who lived across the corridor from me at university, who barged in one day telling me she’d ‘got the clap’ (and her boyfriend telling me what the doctor did to him), I’m not really familiar with what they call venereal disease. Or in this case, not disease, but – well, not to hedge around it any more – crabs.

There, I’ve said it.

I didn’t know about crabs. Now I do.

Anyway, Betsy has had the treatment and now she’s clean. Or whatever you say when you no longer have crabs.

She helps me buy some shoes – mine don’t let enough air circulate round my purple feet, apparently. I find a pair of with just enough leather strapping to hold high-heeled wooden soles to my toes.

The extra height makes up for the ignominy of flaky violet feet. And they come in useful when we fly back to Boston.

Betsy invites me to stay at her upside-down house on a river.  I have no casual clothes, so borrow a pair of jeans. Betsy’s taller than me and the new shoes compensate for my shorter legs.

We go shopping. Eat lobster. Have a riot.

I sleep upstairs, on the sofabed.

Day three, her jeans lying on the floor beside my bed, I hear a wail coming from the bathroom.


The crabs are back. And I’ve been wearing her trousers.

You know what imagination does. Just think about nits and wait for your scalp to itch.

But by the time I’m back in London, when it’s plain I escaped the wee beasties, something else is amiss.

I wake every night, sweating and cold.  Have no appetite. My doctor diagnoses exhaustion – and possibly malaria. Gives me two weeks off work.

My editor in Boston thinks I’m malingering. He wasn’t there, doesn’t know how bad it was.

Soon, it doesn’t matter what he thinks. Those nice folks from Philips, the ones I met in Rio, invite me out to play. Offer me a job in the Netherlands.

The legacy of Rio?

Always expect the unexpected. Who knows, it just might happen.

Or, in the happy case of the crabs, it might not.

smoky quartz sequence





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Flying down to, Rio Part II (the bit with the purple feet)

Beautiful. That’s Rio. Well, the public face. If you ignore the favellas. Which it’s hard to do from our hotel unless you wear earplugs. Then you wouldn’t hear the dogs howling or the shots at night.

But the mountains are beautiful. The sea and the beaches are beautiful. All the young people (it seems) are beautiful.

Long-limbed girls in teeny bikinis. Swinging so coolly and swaying so gently.*

Bronzed gods exercising on the kind of equipment I last saw in our smelly school gym – but on the beach.

Yes, the smart side of Rio is so lovely it’s depressing.

I had a perm not long before I left. Big mistake.  I have to spend ages, each day, blow-drying it. And given my new routine, I could do without that.

I’m up way too early. Swimming lengths in the pool by five thirty. Just two of us sharing the cool hours. Me and the man scooping out last night’s shower of leaves.

The best part of the day comes next. Room service breakfast.

Lush little pastries, pregant with custard. A big orange grin of papaya. A fruit I’d never eaten before – now, I’m hooked.

But, all too soon, I must go. Sandra slips into my room so we can be seen leaving together.

It’s 40 kilometres out to the exhibition centre. Sandra drives us in a rented VW Beetle while I try not to fall asleep.

By the time we arrive the sun’s beaming, the sky’s impossibly blue and the mountains framing the distant view are –  yes – beautiful.

The site is a reclaimed swamp. But no-one told the mosquitoes. Or the rodents.

My base is a subterranean room with no windows. And the air conditioning – such as it is – doesn’t work the long hours we work.

The cable ducts that open into the room are handy – for the rats. But that’s what chairs are for, right? For jumping on.

I learn early on that I must work with the ‘mañana’ thing.  Book essential services to arrive way too early and keep my fingers crossed.

The opening day arrives, the ceremony happens, the speeches go well. The scurry of waiters arrives… half an hour after everyone’s finished.

I booked them for two hours earlier than needed. It’s not a great start. And it just gest worse.

The conference programme, nicely printed in booklets, distributed widely in advance, copies posted out around the world to all the particpants,  is wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I scurry around telling speakers, posting notices and – yes – keeping my fingers crossed. But getting the right people in the right rooms is, it turns out, the easy part.

The first time we use the ‘flexible’ big room – designed so it can be subdivided – there’s a gasp as the lights go off for the slide show in room number 1.

The gasp is from room number 2.

Because the lights are all controlled from one side. Worse, they’re all either on or off across the entire, flexible space.

Luckily I have the electrician on standby. And he has a bright idea. (He’s a bright Sparks ha ha! Sorry.)

He gives me instructions in baby-Spanish, then dashes down to the fuse cupboard on the floor below. I take my position outside the meeting rooms, appoint people from each room to tell me when the lights should be off.

A volunteer stands at the top of the stairs, another at the bottom.

‘Lights off room 1.’

A stage whisper passes along the line – and it works.

It’s fun, you can imagine. No stress. No stress at all.

But after a week or so things settle down a little. I reprise the role of journalist now and then, visiting stands on the huge exhibition centre and – I will find out in due course – meeting my future employers at a well-known firm in The Netherlands.

We even squeeze in some sightseeing.  Corcovado (‘oh how lovely’), the cable car up Sugar Loaf.

Those views!

Basking, hump-backed  islands. Like mythical sea creatures, marooned by old magic.

Yes, Rio is … beautiful.

But it’s not a great place for the morale. I mean, no tan to speak of, classic English pear shape. And don’t mention the thighs.

How come Sandra looks so good around the pool?

Eventually the penny drops – she’s wearing heels.  I’d never have thought of that. But I’m not about to copy her. Two weeks in, the last thing I want to draw attention to is my feet. Which are peeling, badly, visibly, distressingly (well I am a young woman of marriageable age).

I visit the nurse. She tells me it’s fungus.


The office, the rats, the mosquitoes – that wasn’t enough? No, the heat and humidity have done their worst and now I must suffer the ignominy of having my feet painted, all over, with Gentian Violet.

I’ve never been painted with Gentian Violet before. It’s stained my feet purple. When it wears off I have to have it applied again.

I feel like a member of a secret society. Not one the girl from Ipanema would have joined.

But then, she probably wouldn’t have got foot fungus. And almost certainly wouldn’t have done what I did next.

But that’s for the next – and final –  instalment of this husk’s Rio memoir.**getz gilberto

*you have to know the words to the Girl from Ipanema to understand why I use these adverbs😉

**which tbh I wish I’d never started :-(  And if you’re wondering why no pictures – I didn’t have a camera and it’s long before digital photography.


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