Sunday, November 05, 2006

Jeffrey and Me

I’m looking at the Amazon web site and ‘How Not To Teach’ has reached the dizzy heights of 184,326 on the sales table. The testing hasn’t been a roaring success either some of the children have been in tears, I didn’t want to say I told you so but… With all this I need to get away and clear my head.

We’re driving on roads flanked by the grey stone walls of West Yorkshire, the villages and towns show evidence of the influence of Non Conformism and their splits and schisms; Baptists – Independents, Particular and Strict and Particular; Methodists – Primitives, New Connexion and Reform.

Haworth is part shrine to the Brontes and part tourist honey pot although there are mercifully few of ‘Ye Olde Bronte Shoppe’. There are some really different shops, a gloriously untidy film memorabilia one run by a lovely Scottish lady and some Roald Dahl inspired shops selling old fashioned sweets like sherbet fountains, rhubarb and custard bombs and aniseed balls, from an era before ‘Snickers’ took over the world.

At the top of the cobbled street it brings back memories of that clip from the film ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’ (1982) where they’re on the mandatory school trip, ‘She called me a slag!’, ‘Get back on the coach the lot of you!’

A rock solid QPR fan runs the café and we reminisce about stars from the 80’s like Stan Bowles. He was so addicted to gambling that when the players were at his house playing cards before a game (he lived just round the corner from Loftus Road) the bailiffs arrived and took the tables and chairs. In the entrance there’s a shrine to QPR with pride of place a 1903 team picture rescued at an exorbitant price from a pub in Huddersfield. OK, it’s a boy thing.

The Bronte Parsonage has been restored to resemble the early nineteenth century, there are plenty of Branwell’s paintings exhibited and it’s easy to see why he didn’t make it as an artist. Remarkably, given their achievements, all of them except Charlotte died before they were into their thirties. The two eldest sisters died in controversial circumstances after attending Cowan Bridge School for Clergymen’s Daughters. Lowood in ‘Jane Eyre’ was based on Charlotte’s experiences there.

‘Jane Eyre’ was a revolution in literature because the central character a “poor, obscure, plain and little” governess viewed herself as an equal to her employer. The book comments on the indeterminate social status of the governess, a theme also explored later in the century for rural teachers by Flora Thompson in ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’.

We walk to the isolated Bronte Falls and this being Yorkshire on a bleak windswept hillside a group of old men are lovingly tending to and spreading grass seed on a cricket pitch. The dry stonewalling has been white washed at either end to make a rudimentary sightscreen.

In the evening we try out a Youth Hostel, it’s a bit like going back to the 1950s – the gloom of 40-watt light bulbs, musty smells, bad plumbing and grubby, threadbare carpets. The meal is billed as ‘Thai Curry’ but it’s mushy vegetables floating in a luke-warm grey liquid. I’m tempted to do a Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen but they’re only youngsters earning some spending money.

The hostel has been booked by a company for an ‘away weekend’ to practise team bonding skills. We watch through the window as they encounter the icebreaker, furtively and sheepishly holding hands with that ‘omigod’ look. The dark Gothic building is like a set from the ‘Hammer House of Horrors’, we pass on watching ‘The Shining’ and make for our minimally furnished bedroom.

Next day it’s off to Bradford to the Photographic Museum and we watch the incomparable Johnny Cash ‘Live at San Quentin’ (1969). It’s faithfully recreated in the film ‘Walk the Line’ (2005) but it’s impossible to copy the gritty realism of the original.

Back home I start marking the tests and it’s obvious we’ve wasted a week when the children could have been learning. Without getting OCD ‘How Not To Teach’ has gone down to 192,460 on the Amazon sales chart, but I’m reassured when I see that Jeffrey Archer’s latest thriller is at number 46, league tables – you never can trust ‘em.


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