Wednesday, 28 June 2017

LONDON TO TORREVIEJA AND BACK ( a driving adventure)


On Tuesday 23rd May, at three o’clock, on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport, Tony and myself were standing in the reception area of, Budget and Avis, hire cars. The young gentleman representing Budget Hire Cars was filling in the rental forms for a Fiat Ducato 2.3 multijet 150 break horse power van with 13 cubic meters of storage inside. Tony was hiring the van and I was included on the forms as a second driver. The personable young man checked our driving licenses. We both signed the forms and everything was set. However, Tony inquired about adjusting the headlights on the van to be used in France and Spain. They were not adjustable. Tony asked about the EU requirements that every vehicle should carry a high visibility jacket, a spare set of headlight bulbs and have two luminous red warning triangles to be placed in front of and behind the van in the event of a breakdown. None of this was included in the itinerary of the van and the young man was totally unaware of these regulations. Budget and Avis are a reputable car hire company that have years of experience and are meant to be professional. Some muttering from Tony, and a good dose of incredulity from me accompanied our exit from the premises. Tony didn’t push the argument any further. He had all the necessary items in his own car back at home which we transferred to the van before we began our adventure.

AN art installation beside the road in France.

A few weeks ago, Tony, John Lodge, Ivitt Dickinson, Jim Howley and myself met at The White Horse in Dorking for a drink and a lunchtime meal. Tony talked about selling his house in Spain. He wanted to bring back some items of furniture which have been passed down in his family. They are precious family heirlooms. I said that if he needed any help I would give him a hand. Tony gave me a look, paused and said,” if you mean it, yes, come along.” I thought he would need somebody to help lift and carry the items. The deal was set.
We set off for Bognor Regis first. Tony has a caravan at Willows Caravan Park just outside of the village of Westergate, about four and half miles north of Bognor Regis. Tony’s youngest sister Marie and her brother in-law were there to meet us. We loaded some furniture from the caravan on to our van to swap with the furniture Tony wanted to bring back from Spain. We bought some hot and crisp fish and chips from a local chippie. The fish and chips were devoured and a cup of tea imbibed and we were ready to set off for Newhaven. Our Ferry sailed at 11pm. Once on board we found some couchettes to settle down for the night. They were indescribably uncomfortable. I didn’t sleep. Tony had a doze. I might have dropped off for a few minutes but to put it bluntly the night was bloody torture. Two extremely tired people began the first day’s drive at 4.30am in the morning from Dieppe. We had landed in Dieppe but I didn’t see it. It was dark when we disembarked and the road from the ferry leading to, “Toute Directions,” curved up onto the chalk cliffs and bypassed Dieppe itself. We set forth on our trip through France and Spain intending to swap driving duties every two hours to give each other a rest.

Tony and myself, stopping at Auchan La Couronne for a break.

Driving was a comfortable experience. The van was easy to drive and all the controls were smooth and light to the touch. It was easy to forget the size of the vehicle we were driving. There was very little traffic on the roads and we sped along. By about 9.30am cafes and motorway conveniences were opening so we decided to stop for breakfast. Coffee and croissants, lovely.  I was feeling reasonably fresh by this time. As we alternated our driving we could take the opportunity to nap when we were not driving.
The kilometers sped by, Rouen, Evreux, Dreux, Chartres, Poitiers. We did not stop. We drove on. I had made a few notes about some of the more famous places that we passed, to be aware of their history. Rouen was the capital of the Duchy of Normandy and it was where William of Normandy ruled before he conquered England in 1066. Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in Rouen during the Hundred Years War. In 732 AD there was a battle against the Muslim invaders at Chartres. The spires of Chartres cathedral pierced the sky over the ancient and modern city and could be seen from miles away as we drove on, inexorably. Poitiers is famous of course for the battle between the French and English during the hundred years’ war. In 1356, Edward The Black Prince defeated King John II of France. It was the second of the great English victories against the French during the Hundred Years’ War. The other two were Crecy and Agincourt. The main feature of these battles and the reason the English were able to defeat the French decisively, was the use of the English longbow. Poitier, also had been, in its ancient past, both a Celtic and a Roman center. There is a Roman amphitheater in Poitiers.


We stopped for lunch at Angouleme, in the south western area of France, in the province of Aquitaine. A name also with English resonances. The countryside was flat and extended in smooth undulating expanses towards the horizon, only broken by clusters of woods interspersed across the landscape. We saw small turreted chateaux along the way often surrounded by sheltering trees to protect and shield them from the prevailing winds.
We drove through Bordeaux. Vineyards stretched far across the landscape to our left and right. The vines were set out as neatly as ribbed corduroy.  Sauvignon, Merlot, Verdot, Malbec appeared on large signs here and there. These are the names of types of grape producing wines often with the same names. We drove on, crossing bridges spanning the great rivers, The Loire, Niotase, Canal de Pomere  the Dordogne and the Garonne. After driving all day and covering more than 600 miles we reached  the foot of the Pyrenees. In the distance we could see the Pyrenees mountain range and we caught glimpses of snow high up on the tallest peaks.

The foothills of The Pyrenees in the distance.

So, what did Tony and I talk about? Everything, as you would expect. Religion, politics, family, thoughts and opinions about this and that. We saw the weather forecast on televisions displayed at various stops along the way and saw Macron meeting Putin and Trump , acting very out of place at the G7 and we talked about that. We talked about and commented on what we saw along the way, places, scenery, other drivers and how bad they were. A learner driver cut straight across the front of our van on that first day  while Tony was driving. I gasped and muttered something unrepeatable and Tony hissed, something unrepeatable. The two of us were together for seven days, in each other’s company all that time. I think we became unselfconscious. I know I can speak impulsively. I remember talking about teaching in junior schools and  rambling on about every detail and consideration needed for taking a class on a residential trip.  It just poured out. Maybe if Tony reads this he might smile and mutter,” Oh goodness, did he go on and on.” Tony gave me the low down on life in Spain and so on we went doing a lot of talking.
Pau, at the base of the Pyrenees was a welcome break. Before we reached the town I was becoming very tired. I wasn’t sleepy but my whole body felt exhausted.I said to Tony , “can you take over driving, I have had enough. “I didn’t realise how close we were to the hotel. As we didn’t come across anywhere to stop and change over, I continued until we pulled into the car park. We stayed in a small motel on the outskirts of Pau. I was able to have a hot shower. When we were both refreshed we met together and walked over to the restaurant for dinner. The restaurant served basic dishes, baked fish, chicken goulettes, a ratatouille, a range of cheeses, sour dough bread, water , a choice of wines and French and Belgium beers and good coffee. Well of course French food is never basic.   The French are unable to create a substandard meal. It’s in their DNA to cook well, combining herbs and sauces even for the cheapest of cheapest meals. We ate a delicious repast. Before retiring we went for a walk around the vicinity of the motel and came across some sports fields nearby covered in vans and caravans. People seemed to have gathered for a festival of some sort. My room was clean, the bed was comfortable and I went to sleep almost the moment I touched my head on the pillow and slept deeply and soundly all night.

Driving through France.

I woke in the morning refreshed. Tony and I met for breakfast, a hot cup of coffee, some cereal and a croissant and we were on our way. The Pyrenees loomed ahead. Once out of the town of Pau by way of innumerable roundabouts we headed towards the foothills of the Pyrenees. French roundabouts always seem to have a sharp turn right off them. It’s as though they try to slow your progress before you are able to accelerate. We had both got used to driving the Fiat van by now. It had a long wheelbase and taking these angled turns off the numerous roundabouts we encountered had to be done carefully.
The roads in France but especially in Spain are smooth and well surfaced and in many cases new. There is also, apart from around towns and cities, very little traffic. The Fiat van being easy to drive the roads were generally a pleasure to drive along. The one thing we had to be careful about were the speed limits. Tony had installed his SATNAV in the cab of the van. The SATNAV kept us informed about our speed and the limit we should keep to. There are cameras everywhere and the French and Spanish are very strict about keeping to limits. The only drawback about this is that sometimes the speed limits changed drastically. Approaching towns it sometimes showed 50kmph but out on the main motorways it showed 90kmph or 110kmph then in places it went up to 120kmph but suddenly it would drop quickly to 100 or even 50. Approaching one town in France I remember the speed being 110kmph then dropping quickly to 50kmph and within meters shooting up to 100kmph. There seemed no logic to it. But, we had to be careful. We didn’t want a speeding ticket.  “Elizabeth,” helped us. Elizabeth being the name we gave to the assuring voice of the SATNAV. “Elizabeth,” was great. A wonderful companion. She kept us informed of temperature, speed, petrol consumption and km to go to our next scheduled stop. During the whole journey we kept  to our driving schedule of driving in two hour intervals. We changed over at suitable stopping points where we could get a coffee and go to the gents.

Driving through the Pyrenees.


 There are 129 peeks in the Pyrenees that are over 3000 meters. Signs showed us that sometimes we were climbing to 2000 meters or more. The Pyrenees reminded me, with their steep slopes and racing mountain streams and lakes of the Lake District. It had a feel of The Cumbrian Lakes but on a much larger scale. We saw boulders loosened from the mountain tops resting on valley sides or near streams bigger than houses. They were very impressive in size and scale. Buzzards circled overhead at times. We passed through tunnels cut through mountainsides and drove through villages constructed from the local stone. One particular rugged stone built tower, Tony informed me, was called, The Riflemen’s Tower. Indeed, the holes through which rifles could be fired were visible as we drove past it high on the rocks above. It was obviously a strategic military position defending the valley. As we passed into Spain some blue uniformed police officers stopped us and asked us what our business was. They were courteous and didn’t detain us long. I wondered if, since the random ISIS attacks in Britain and Europe, the boarders would be difficult to cross. I got the feeling these police were being careful but not in a too obstructive manner.

The road onwards.

Geologically, the Pyrenees must be a geologists’ paradise. Every type of rock, formation and process can be found in the Pyrenees. The range is 430 kilometers long. It divides Spain, France and Andora. Its width, north to south varies from 65 kilometers to 150 kilometers. It began to be formed in the Precambrian period from the early formation of the Earth 4.6 billion years ago to 590 million years ago when fossils began to appear. Every type of rock can be found in the Pyrenees, conglomerates which are gravels and sandstones, breccia a form of cemented gravels, sandstones, shales, siltstones, keuper deposits, limestones, schists, marls, greywackes, salts and red deposits which are sandstones that contain iron oxides. One particular road cutting we drove through, high up in the mountains, showed sides that were a deep red colour. 

Sandstone cliffs.

We came across sandstone cliffs that changed colour, like a rainbow across its surface and reminded me of the sandstone cliffs at Alum Bay on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. The Alum Bay sands are made from quartz, feldspar and mica and the colours are created by other minerals seeping into and staining the layers. Something similar must have happened to the sandstones in the Pyrenees. It also suggests that these Pyrenean sandstones were formed under the sea at one time.  The mountain folds were caused as the Iberian Peninsula plate collided with the European plate. There are examples of volcanic activity. There are metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks. This rich and varied geology creates the most dramatic and beautiful landscape.

Emerging from the Somport Tunnel.

We drove through the Somport Pass and  the relatively new Somport Tunnel , a long modern well-lit sweeping insertion through part of the mountains. Once through the Pyrenees we drove on and into Spain. The landscape seemed flat and barren, sun scorched, although Tony assured me that Spain was looking greener than he expected for this time of the year. Yes, I could see the greenery but it was pretty thinly spread and the yellow and orange and red ochre earth beneath showed through. As we neared towns and villages sometimes castles were situated on high rock outcrops commanding views over the surrounding terrain. We drove on. The signs for  Jaca and  Huesca passed us by. Huesca is one of the many towns that originate from Roman times and is the capital of the Province of Huesca in the area called Aragon. Thoughts of Tudor English history came to mind. English history doesn’t just have its reach throughout France but through Spain too. Zaragoza came up next. I was interested to learn that the name, Zaragoza, is a bastardisation of the name ,”Caesar Augustus.” It is obvious therefore the origins of Zaragoza. It is the capital of the province of Zaragoza but also the capital of the wider area of Aragon. Thoughts of Tudor English history came to mind. English history doesn’t just have its reach throughout France but through Spain too. Zaragoza has a multi domed cathedral, the Nuestra Senora del Pilar basilica. It is shrine to the Virgin Mary. It combines baroque and Islamic styles in its construction, standing out from its surrounding buildings. It is a center for pilgrimage. And on we drove in this increasingly arid landscape, Teruel, Sagunto. Font de la Figuera, Elche and eventually our destination, Torrevieja on the Costa Blanca. Some smaller mountain ranges reach the sea just here and although not high, because they stick out of the flat, surrounding landscape in a sharp edged and rugged they are a dramatic sight.

Tony cleaning dead insects off the windscreen at one coffee break in Spain.

Torrevieja is a seaside resort with many new buildings and narrow streets huddled up against a busy harbour crammed with sailing yachts and launches. Salt lagoons, Las Salinas, are on the edge of the city. Salt production is its main industry apart from tourism and the presence of a large British and foreign  ex pat community. Some old buildings remain such as Iglesia Arciprestal de la Inmaculado Concepcion which was built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1844. I walked into this church just after people emerged after hearing mass. It was dimly lit with candles. I walked past some of the small chapels inset along each side. Spanish churches and cathedrals create biblical and religious scenes with life size and lifelike statues in poses of veneration, adoration or suffering. Combined with the candle lit atmosphere these scenes become almost alive and can be very moving and affecting.

The statues were almost lifelike in the candlelit interior.

I walked around Torrevieja while Tony had a meeting with his solicitor about arranging the transfer of the ownership of his house to his friend. There is a pier which leads from the harbour and stretches for one kilometer, parallel with the coastline. I walked along this to the end. Many people were jogging and walking along it for the fresh sea breeze. I was able to look back and get a broad view of the city, the harbour and ships transporting salt from the conical mounds of salt positioned along the industrial wharves.

Ships loading salt in Torrevieja.

While we were in Torrevieja I met some of Tony’s friends and we went out for a meal with one couple and visited another couple in their home. The expat lifestyle is comfortable. Houses and the cost of living is cheaper than in Britain. Tony’s friends I met lived in beautiful villas with Spanish style roofs, doors and windows and the interiors were just as classically designed. They told me that they love living in Spain not only because iof the cost of living but because of the climate. Even in the winter months the climate of Torrevieja does not go below 17 degrees celcius and can reach 20 degrees in the winter.The English who live in Spain are a gregarious lot. They support each other and form clubs. Tony told me how he and Mumtaz had started a caravan club and organized tours to various parts of Spain. Tony had also lead a walking group which went for walks together in the hills and mountains around Torrevieja.  It is common throughout Spain that communities help organize the development of the areas they live in. If a communal swimming pool is required for the area, or the employment of a road sweeper and gardner for the roadside verges is needed, the local people have a committee which oversees these developments. People pays fees to their central committee each year to help finace these ventures.Tony, and some his friends I met, are leaders in their own community.
Torrevieja is south of Alicante in the Provence of Valencia. 

The harbour in Torrevieja.

Valencia has some rugged mountain ranges the ancient Iberian range extending from the north west to the south east, and the younger Betica formation from the south to Cap de la Nao. This young limestone has given rise to high rocks like the Penon de Ifach crag. Where these mountain ranges reach the sea they give rise to dramatic cliffs. As we drove towards Torrevieja we could see these mountain formations all around us. It is easy to see the attraction for hill and mountain walking in Spain. The scenery looked spectacular.
Mick, a retired Irish policeman friend of Tony’s, who lived nearby Tony in Torrevieja, helped us load the back of the van with Tony’s furniture that he wanted to bring back to England. An ornate bed head, sofas, washing machine, various family heirlooms, including a, “bog oak,” cupboard and a grandfather clock case, and some bedside cupboards, were all hoisted onboard with ample heaving, huffing and puffing. “This way!” “That way!” “Up a bit, no, lower, lower,” and so forth. After some maneuvering we got it all loaded and tied down.

Tony's old back yard with a barbecue.

The journey back through Spain took us past Sax and Villena, both with impressive castles standing out in the landscape. We drove on past Calamocha, Muel, Nueno and Anguis, the Pyrenees looming up once more in the distance. We drove into Zaragoza because I took the wrong branch on the A23 but it proved quiet on a Sunday and the roads were virtually empty. It was interesting to see all the modern factories and high rise estates on the outskirts of Zaragoza and were soon back on the E07 which again joined up with the A23 taking us north. Zaragoza, has a famous history. It was besieged during the Napoleonic Wars. It has a magnificent basilica, Our Lady of the Pillar.  This trip, if it did nothing else, gave me a whole list of places, that we merely drove past and through and which one day I want to visit properly.

Castles in Spain.

 “Elizabeth,”s becoming a problem on the way back. She was forever trying to get us to take turnings, drive in directions and along routes we didn’t want to drive. Nearing the Pyrenees once again we eventually gave into her. We thought. “Lets see where she takes us.” In many ways it was the right thing to do. Instead of taking us the main route through the Pyrenees which we had followed on the way south, the N134 via Urdos and Bource, we took “Elizabeth’s,” route the D934, which at times we discovered, became a narrow country road. The D934 took us past, dams, waterfalls, hydroelectric plants and under overhanging rocks. At one stage while driving, the rocky cliff on my right overhung the road but Tony assured me we had at least a meter clearance. He was right because we got past without any scrapes. My hardest bit of driving was coming down steep mountain roads that,” hair pinned,” continuously for kilometers. The drop to one side was always precipitous. Fast moving mountain streams raced beneath us. There were many more boulders strewn about than we had encountered on the way south. Many were so big, one landing on us would have crushed us flat in an instant. The scenery was breathtaking. It was amazing to see the snow high up on the mountains around us. Our route took us once again, between 2000 and 3000 feet but the temperature didn’t drop below 20 degrees. We passed ski lifts and ski lodges this time which we had not encountered before. The ski slopes were devoid of snow at this time of the year.

Boulders loosened from the mountain higher up bigger than houses.

We eventually reached Pau again and stayed the night in the same motel we had stayed in on our way south to Spain. The receptionist and our waitress for the evening spoke to us in French and Tony used his language skills with expertise and panache.  As we sat eating our evening meal, the French elections were on the television. Macron had won and although Marine le Pen had lost the presidential election she had got close. She demonstrated strongly the rise of nationalism and the hard right that is resurgent in Europe at the moment. We watched the weather forecast for France. Thirty degrees or more all along the route north we were to take. As we left the restaurant for our rooms I spoke to the receptionist and was surprised to find her answering me in perfect English, with an English accent. I was taken aback. She was English. I asked her how long she had lived in Pau. She replied for at least twelve years. She was young. She must have lived there since she was a child. I didn’t pursue our conversation any further and just smiled and said goodnight. We made sure we had plenty of water before setting off in the morning.

Driving back through France.

We drove back up through France, crossing the great rivers once again, The Garonne, The Dordogne, The Charente, The Loire , The Seine and The Somme, back towards Dieppe. Just south of Charters at Barjouville, we stopped at a new,” Leclerk ,”supermarket complex and had lunch.

Tony and I messing about with mirrors in the Leclerk supermarket south of Chartres.

 From here we drove on across the flat countryside reaching to the horizon and saw once again, but from the south this time, the great slender spires of  Notre Dame de Chartres, built between 1194 and 1220, pointing to the clear blue sky above it. It looked magnificent in the distance as it got steadily closer. I can imagine all those  generations of workers in the fields, the farmers, their wives and their children from the 13th century onwards looking up from their work and seeing this gothic magnificence in the distance and they would regarded it with awe and reverence and wonder. We had time, this time, to drive into Chartres. we didn’t stop but drove around the old town with its quaint buildings, avenues of trees and small parks. We drove close to the cathedral to get a passing look and then we were out of the city and on our way to Dieppe.

Dieppe in the evening for a beer in a bar.

We arrived in Dieppe early so we drove down the steep hill into the town and had a drink in a bar overlooking the harbour full of yachts and fishing boats. We recalled the Dieppe Raid of August 1940 which was a disaster for the allies. The lessons from Dieppe were applied to the  D Day landings in June 1944.The ferry crossing back to England was better than the crossing over. We both managed to get a little sleep this time using the couchettes. In the morning we drove back to Willows Caravan Park and with some scheming, heaving and adjusting we got the furniture from the van into the caravan. Later we drove back to the AVIS car hire company at Heathrow and Tony signed what he needed to sign and handed over the keys. Tony drove me home to West Barnes Lane and our adventure was over.


Saturday, 6 May 2017

MY MAY DAY MANIFESTO



The May Day Manifesto

 “In the summer of  1966, a group of socialists met to discuss the possibility of a political intervention. They had no official positions in politics; they were mainly teachers, writers and research workers, the majority from the universities. Nor did they belong to any constituted group, though again a majority of them had been associated, at different times over the previous ten years, with what is usually described as the New Left.
As a result of the meeting, it was decided to publish a manifesto, which was at that stage conceived as a bringing together of existing socialist positions and analysis, as a counter-statement to the Labour government’s policies and explanations. Three editors were appointed: Edward Thompson, who had been one of the founders of the New Reasoner; Stuart Hall, one of the founders of Universities and Left Review; and myself.”
An extract from the “May Day Manifesto,” written by Raymond Williams and published by Penguin.

The manifesto discussed poverty, inequality in society, the economy, British manufacturing and the balance of payments problems. These issues are applicable today. Its main aim was to show how capitalism created oppression. The manifesto insisted on a socialist framework to solve these problems.

A junior school

I know something about education having been a teacher in the state system for nearly fourty years. Education has become test based and exam based. Everything has to be measured and assessed all the time, creating an education culture that has been narrowed to exam techniques. It is political and education is being starved of money. New teachers are being put off continuing and making a career in teaching.
I want education to be creative, imaginative and appealing to pupils, enabling them to become enthusiastic and joyous in their learning and to not be afraid to fail and not have to meet targets at frequent, given times. I want them to explore, as individuals, every aspect of what it means to be alive and to discover the world around them. The only maxim a teacher should have is, “Do whatever it takes,” to develop a child and their learning. I can envisage a system that does not need exams at all. A child with certain abilities should be helped to go in the direction of a particular type of work or higher education that has become obvious they are suited to throughout their school life. Politicians and governments have talked about a fair society, an equal society for what seems like generations. The only way to do that is to truly and fully support the comprehensive system. There should be no other system. Grammar schools should be abolished. The private sector should be abandoned. There should not be schools such as Eton, Harrow and Winchester. We might then be able to achieve a fair and equal society.


I stay awake at night worrying about the, The National Health Service.It worries me intensely that the National Health Service is faltering and near the brink of collapse. Efficiencies, streamlining, new technologies can only go as far as the constraints of the present day. New technologies and medical procedures in the future will change the NHS further. What can be achieved now should be financed properly. Taxation is not a dirty word.  



Housing built using renewable energy technology.

I also worry daily about the problems my own children have concerning  housing, absolutely necessary for their development into adulthood and their happy and fruitful futures. There is an imbalance being created. The world is out of kilter for them.Housing has become a joke. Council houses have been sold off. Lower paid workers have to rely on poor standard housing agency properties, if they are able to get them at all. The price of housing in this country has become so inflated that people in nationally vital occupations, such as nursing, teaching, the police, cannot live anywhere near where they work in the cities. I want to see councils allowed to build council housing again. I want the building trade to use new technologies to build truly affordable, well designed efficient, modern housing using locally sourced building materials, some of it recycled. It is possible. Private building companies are for profit only organisations.They are making the situation impossible for the majority on average and low wages. The government should be financing new housing projects through cheap government loans and through the banking sector. New innovative ways of building should be introduced. I can’t see why housing can’t be designed that includes an element of self-build, and certainly incorporating renewable energy sources. There are plenty of local building firms to provide the expertise and machine power for the more technical and heavy loading part of house building. 

I have just worked something out. My family and I live in South Wimbledon. We moved into our house 23 years ago. The cost of the house was 3 times my wife and my combined wages. We were mid career teachers  and we had three children with a fourth on the way. We could put down a sizable deposit because we were moving from a smaller house and made a profit on selling it. It took us twenty years to pay off the mortgage. A mid career teacher now does not earn much more than we did then. The value of our house is now 15 times the combined income of two mid career teachers. What the .... (expletive deleted). Who has got a chance in hell now?

  We do know how to work this out.

This is my May Day Manifesto.



Monday, 24 April 2017

CANNON HILL HOUSE 1773 TO 1900?

Most days I go for a run. The weather has been particularly good recently. Its been a warm Spring. The local parks are looking green and the shrubberies are flowering. All the local front gardens are blooming with every type of perennial, biennial and annual. Its a gardeners paradise around here I can tell you.

When I go for a run I choose from a variety of routes which I try out depending on distance but often just for a change of scenery. For the last few days I have been running up on to Cannon Hill Park, about half a mile from my front door. It is close to Raynes Park and South Wimbledon.

Cannon Hill today.

It has its own unique character and has a natural, managed aspect about it, similar to some of the Capability Brown landscapes from the 18th century although it was not designed by Capability Brown. I should think some other landscape gardener at the time probably had an input.

Records of Cannon Hill go back to the Normans.The Augustinian Canons of Merton Priory (1117-1538) owned ,"Cannondownhyll,". Merton Priory is particularly famous because Nicholas Breakspeare was a monk at the priory in 1125 ,he became Adrian IV,  the first English Pope, in 1154, and Thomas Becket was educated there by the monks in 1130.The Abbott,Walter de Merton, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Rochester, was founder of Merton College Oxford. He took his name from the priory.
 Parliamentarian forces occupied the hill  during the English Civil War (1642- 1651). They mounted cannons on the hill to help protect London.  At one time a row of cottages in Cannon Hill Lane was called Cromwell Villas.

A sketch of Cannon Hill Place.
In 1763 William Taylor acquired the freehold of the site and built Cannon Hill House. William Taylor was an officer in the 32nd Regiment of foot and later became a Major General in the 14th Regiment.At that time this area was adjoined to Merton Common. The house was built from local bricks that were probably made from the black clay taken from the depression that is the lake situated at the bottom of the slope in front of where the house was positioned.
In 1832 Richard Thornton bought Cannon Hill House and he remained in it until his death in 1865. Thornton made his fortune trading in the Baltic.The Baltic trade with Britain at the time was mostly in timber but he must had strong links with the Hanseatic league, a powerful trading group of states on the edge of The Baltic, primarily German. When William Thornton died in 1865 he was worth £3 million pounds which in todays money is about £140 million. At his death it was judged to be the greatest Victorian fortune. He had no children. The house was hardly used for many years after his death and 1880 it was abandoned. It was probably demolished by 1900 but it still appeared on Ordnance Survey maps up to 1930.

An 1825 portrait of Richard Thornton.
James Edwards, wrote the guide book, " Companion from London to Brighthelmston," (1789- 1801). Brighthelmston, was the name of the small fishing village that Brighton was developed from in the 1780s  when the Prince Regent began to visit.
He stated,
" half a mile south of the Kingston Road, adjoining Merton Common, is Cannon Hill. It is a white house situated on an eminence commanding a pleasnat and extensive prospect to the east over a small park or lawn. On the west are suitable gardens, shrubberies etc and the soil is a stiff black clay." 

An 1825 view of the house that is displayed on an information board in the park.
The black clay is still evident. One path I ran along, through some trees, was bare and there was dry cracked mud  underfoot. The park is a wildlife reserve nowadays taken care of by Merton Council. It is a small oasis of flaura and fauna away from the hustle and bustle of South London. I may well run there again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

AN EASTER TOPIC FOR DISCUSSION....if you want?

A MEDITATION ON EASTER AND RELIGION IN GENERAL


There should be no spiritual and religious titles like agnostic, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew. We are all human beings. We live from birth to death and during that arc of life we are experiencing what it is to be human. All those titles and labels separate and divide us and diminish us in each other’s eyes.

I have been brought up as a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic Church has many traditions, tenets of faith, beliefs and practices, many that are shared with other religions and are medieval metaphors and symbolism. The Assumption, The Immaculate Conception, The Virgin Birth, miracles, heaven, hell, three persons in one God, revelations, consubstantiation, the Resurrection and the Ascension. All of these are wrong and didn’t happen and they don’t exist. They were messages and meanings to the medieval mind.

What has become difficult and impossible for the Catholic Church today, and this can be reflected in other religions, is that a long time ago it pronounced that all those things were points of faith and to be a christian you had to believe them. It also decided that certain pronouncements should be infallible. The Catholic Church is unable to change. It can’t go anywhere.  Religious intransigence has brought about pain and  all sorts of evils, including wars, the denunciation of whole groups of people, the deaths of individuals, abuse,  moral doubts and personal anguish; it has diminished the role of women, encouraged misogyny, and lead to groups of women and those with different sexual orientations being made to suffer.

What we should focus on during the span of a life is, love. If our societies could be organised to promote the development of love in the community and in our personal lives that would completely fulfill us as human beings.

 Religions have gathered too much unhealthy baggage. What is apparent though is that they really do know what the essence of living should be. Different holy books, The Koran, The Tora ,The Bible, whether its Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity , all say,love, is the cornerstone of their religion. John The Evangelist wrote,”God is love,” and, “ "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Mark the Apostle stated, “ Love your neighbour as yourself.”

 Love is an abstract concept. At first we think we know what it means. We can all think of examples. However we also realise how little we know about love, its scope, its power and what it can do. If we really think about it in our lives we might even come up with things we didn’t realise were love at the time but later we became aware of them.
So from birth to death, all we are really trying to find, experience and give, is love. That is all that we need to be a full and complete human. We can’t ask or want for any more.

Organised religions can be good for social cohesion and it is the social bonding side of religion that many really mean when they say they are a Catholic or a Hindu or a Muslim. Organised religion can also cause social division.

I don’t think any of us should be a member of a religious group or believe in a so called  God. What we should  do is explore what love is in our lives.

The Beatles released, “All You Need Is Love,” in 1967 on Their Magical Mystery Tour album.

The lyrics were written by John Winston Lennon.

Nothing you can make that can’t be made
No one you can save that can’t be saved
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
It’s easy

All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need.


Thursday, 16 February 2017

A VISIT TO BATH


Sometimes, among all the unwanted adverts, links and promotions that crop up on my i-phone, there  is something  of use. Recently Marilyn saw a one night deal advertised at The Royal Hotel Bath. That is not the Royal Crescent Hotel at the top of the city by the way. The Royal Crescent Hotel provides, I am sure, extreme luxury. Well, it should do. The cost of a suite for one night is £1000. The Royal Hotel is the sturdy building, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and built in 1864, next to the main railway station located next to the River Avon. The deal was excellent. The hotel is three star but it offered a very comfortable experience. For £125 we had a well appointed double room with en-suite facilities. When we arrived we had a cream tea in the foyer. The evening three course meal began with a complimentary glass of champagne. The deal also included a full English breakfast.

The Royal Hotel ,Bath. (Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel in 1846.)

The weather was cold but clear skied while we were in Bath. We  had to wrap up warmly.
We have been to Bath on a few occasions and we have seen the main sites before. This time we once again visited Bath Abbey and for the first  time visited the Roman Baths complex. There was quite a queue to get into the Pump Room for afternoon tea so we decided to miss that. We have been to the Pump Room twice before. We found another coffee shop nearby in the Abbey precinct.

Bath Abbey with The Pump Room on the right.

Of course we walked past and along many of the sites in Bath that are connected with Jane Austen.When we arrived in Bath, we first of all parked in our usual car park, near the river, very close to Green Park buildings, and the house where The Reverend George Austen died on Tuesday 21st January  1805, Jane wrote to her brother Frank Austen, stationed on HMS Leopard in Portsmouth..

"An illness of only eight and forty hours carried him off yesterday morning between ten and eleven,"

 After booking into The Royal Hotel we moved our car to the car park in Manvers Street next to the hotel.   I discovered that Fanny Burney , the playwright and novelist, a contemporary of Jane Austen's, lived in South Parade, next to the car park.

We later walked up Milson Street,

"They were in Milsom Street. It began to rain, not much, but enough to make shelter desirable for women, and quite enough to make it very desirable for Miss Elliot to have the advantage of being conveyed home in Lady Dalrymple's carriage, which was seen waiting at a little distance;..."  (Persuasion)

to Edgar Buildings, which features in, Northangar Abbey,

" Early the next day, a note from Isabella speaking peace and tenderness in every line and entreating the immediate presence of her friend on a matter of uttmost importance, hastened Catherine, in the happiest state of confidence and curiosity, to Edgar's Buildings."  

Edgar Buildings are located in George Street.

We turned left along George Street to Gay Street and walked up the hill to The Circus, past number 25 Gay Street, a house the Austens stayed in after the Reverend Austen's death. From, The Circus ,we walked along Bennett Street to The Upper Assembly Rooms .

We had never been inside the Assembly Rooms before. They were spectacular. Jane Austen describes a number of Balls in her novels, Emma, Pride and Prejudice and Northangar Abbey. She also writes, in her letters to Cassandra, about the balls she and other members of her family, and friends attended.

I know about the social importance of a ball in the 18th century to the marriage market. However, actually standing in the ballroom and seeing the tea room and the Octagon card room, I became much more aware of the powerful social meaning of a place like this. The ballroom would have been set out like a sports arena with tiers of seating around the side.Mothers, fathers and often grandparents would have sat in these seats. The young participants, dressed for the part and tutored in every flirtation technique and intricate dance move were on display in the middle on the dance floor using their hard won skills to attract a partner. Emma Woodhouse is jealous of Jane Fairfax, in Jane Austen's novel Emma because of her superior accomplishments. And in Pride and Prejudice the Bennett sisters practice their dance moves, honing them to perfection. It was a spectator event, the various members of the families assessing their daughter or son's performance and also assessing the opposition. Being there made me aware of how serious a ,"sport," all this was.



The entrance to The Upper Assembly Rooms. (Designed by John Wood The younger 1769)

In 1759 Thomas Gainsborough lived in a house in The Circus nearby the Assembly Rooms . It was not cheap to attend a ball. Living in, The Circus,Gainsborough, had access to the wealthy families who attended the balls and so was able to obtain portrait commissions more easily. Various masters of ceremonies oversaw the activities of the moneyed classes in Bath. Beau Nash, being the most influential and famous of these. He became master of ceremonies in 1704 and remained in bath until his death in 1761. He made sure the right people mixed together. He organised spectacular events in Bath which the rich and famous paid for.Gainsborough was favoured by Beau Nash and he and his family were given complimentary tickets to many of the Balls and events in Bath. In Northangar Abbey Henry Tilney and Catherine Moreland are introduced to each other by the master of ceremonies at the Lower Assembly Rooms, which no longer exist but were situated between the Abbey and the river.

"They made their appearance in the Lower Rooms; and here fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentleman like young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. "
(Northangar Abbey by Jane Austen)



The Ballroom.

We walked around The Royal Crescent where Jane Austen and her contemporaries went for strolls conversing and showing themselves off to society. We also visited Number 1 The Royal Crescent,which is the first house on the Royal Crescent. It is furnished with 18th century furniture and artifacts.in the styles prevalent between 1776  and 1796. The guides in each room told us about the people who rented and lived in the house during this period. The aristocracy and the wealthy did not live in Bath all the time but usually rented properties for, "The Bath Season."


The Royal Crescent, Bath (Designed by John Wood the elder and John Wood the younger between 1767 and 1775)

There is an area called The Northern Crescents in Bath which we had never visited before so we decided to do that. Bath is built on hills and to get to The Northern Crescents it is quite a steep climb that extends north of The Royal Crescent. We visited Landsdowne Crescent ,which is situated on Sion Hill. On Thursday 21st May 1801 Jane wrote to Cassandra describing a walk she made with Mrs Chamberlayne to Weston, a small village to the west of Bath, by way of Sion Hill. We also visited Somerset Place and Cavendish Crescent which are all spectacular examples of 18th century architecture easily comparable to The Circus and The Royal Crescent but perhaps on a smaller scale. We missed Camden Crescent which is further east of those crescents. Next time I go to Bath, Camden Crescent is a must. After all it is where Anne Elliot , the heroine of Persuasion and her father Sir Walter Elliot took rooms in Camden Place, nowadays known as Camden Crescent.

“a very good house in Camden Place, a lofty, dignified situation, such as becomes a man of consequence”
(Persuasion by Jane Austen)

Landsdowne Crescent, Bath (designed by John Palmer 1789 -1793)


Later, on our return walk back into the center, we walked down Gay Street, past The Jane Austen Centre and through Queen Square where the Austens stayed in 1799 at number 13, also glancing down Trim Street, where the Austens stayed at number 7.for a short time in 1805, after returning from a visit to Steventon,

Pultney Bridge and  Great Pultney , is a very elegant, wide thoroughfare . It was here Catherine Moreland stayed in Northangar Abbey and where Anne Elliot caught sight of Captain Wentworth while out walking with Lady Russell.

"The following morning Anne was out with her friend, and for the first hour, in an incessant and fearful sort of watch for him in vain; but at last, in returning down Pulteney Street, she distinguished him on the right-hand pavement at such a distance as to have him in view the greater part of the street."

The elegant Great Pultney Street. ( designed by Thomas Baldwin and completed in 1789)

 We walked the full length of Great Pultney and turned left into Sydney Place opposite Sydney Gardens and stood outside number 4 Sydney |Place, another house Jane Austen lived in. There is a plaque commemorating this on the house front. Not all the houses Jane Austen lived in have plaques on them. It was a little disconcerting to see two black bin liners, full of rubbish, tied to the railings at the front of number 4 Sydney Place but I suppose the rubbish has to be left somewhere on refuse collection day.

Number 4 Sydney Place.

There is a rather awkward story about the time Jane Austen lived in Bath. After her father retired from his holding of the Steventon parish and when the Austens first moved to Bath they stayed at number 1 The Paragon Buildings,  with Jane's Aunt and uncle, James Leigh Perrott and his wife Jane. James was Mrs Austen's brother. Jane Leigh Perrot had been accused of stealing lace from a shop in Bath and had been prosecuted. How much of this Jane knew is speculation.

Number 1 The Paragon

Marilyn and I walked  past The Paragon buildings noting number 1 and photographing the exterior. We walked on and discovered a house at the end of the row where the acclaimed 18th century actress Mrs Siddons had lived. At the end of the Paragon we came across St Swithuns church. It was here that Jane's mother and father were married on April 26th 1764  and also where her father,the Reverend George Austen, is buried.  What I found also interesting was that here, in St Swithuns churyard,  Fanny Burney, is also buried. She  influenced Jane as a writer. I have written about Fanny Burney and General D'Arblay, her husband, when they lived in Great Bookham in Surrey. The D'Arblays knew another Aunt and Uncle of Jane's, Samuel and Cassandra Cooke. The Reverend Samuel Cooke was the vicar of Great Bookham Church.Cassandra Cooke, nee Leigh, was one of Mrs Austen's cousins.

St Swithun's Church at the end of The Paragon. ( built by John Palmer between 1777 and 1790)

Seeing Bath through the eyes of an Austenite you become acutely aware of how Jane Austen used the city, not just as a setting for large parts of Northangar Abbey and Persuasion but how the social meaning of where characters lived, who they met and what they did in Bath,  provided meaning to the novels.

Looking down Milson Street where Jane Austen and many of her characters walked and shopped.

It sounds very much like our trip to Bath was all about the Romans, Georgian architecture and Jane Austen, but it really was about having a great time together, just the two of us.

https://janeausteninvermont.wordpress.com/2016/07/21/jane-austen-and-great-bookham-guest-post-by-tony-grant/

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

TO WALK INVISIBLE a dramatisation of the Brontes lives by Sally Wainwright


To Walk Invisible is a drama documentary written and directed by Sally Wainwright, about the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne , their brother Branwell and their father Patrick during the years 1845 to 1849. This date span is dealt with flexibly. There are flash backs to childhood  when Branwell receives a present of some toy soldiers and the children use these soldiers, whose individual figures, they name, to write  poems, plays and create magazines and novelettes. They place them within a world they call Glasstown. Later as they grow older, Charlotte and Branwell extend this by creating their own country called, Angria, and Emily and Anne create their world called ,Gondal. These imaginary worlds are interlaced in the programme to show their early influences and their development as authors and artists. It references the time after 1849 with obituaries for Branwell, Emily and Anne and describes what happens to Charlotte and Patrick Bronte ,their father, at a later date.

The moors near Haworth.

The programme begins at a time after Branwell and Anne have left their governess and tutor roles for the Robinson Family at Thorpe Green and its emotional aftermath. It also deals with the dramatic event where Anne and Charlotte travel to London to visit their publishers Smith, Elder and Co on Cornhill in The City. The final part fades into the present day, showing  modern tourists  inside the parsonage  and we are then taken to the tourist gift shop and a view of the wild looking statue of the three sisters that is positioned beside the shop. The end is a little confusing seemingly becoming an advert for the Bronte Parsonage bookshop and the Bronte Society. It is linked to an English Literature course provided by the Open University.

The statues of Anne, Charlotte and Emily beside the Haworth museum shop.

Sally Wainwright, who wrote and produced ,To Walk Invisible, was an obvious choice to make this programme. She is a gritty Yorkshirewoman who understands the Yorkshire way of life. The fact that she is a ,”Yorkshire lass,” imbued with the landscape, people and a Yorkshire sensibility, connects her to the Brontes in no small way. She was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 1963. She was brought up in Sowerby Bridge where she attended Triangle C of E Primary School and Sowerby Bridge Grammar School. She went on to attended the University of York reading English. Intellectually, socially and emotionally she was formed by Yorkshire. Like the Brontes she started writing from an early age, the age of nine. While at university she had a play called ,”Hanging On,” put on at the Edinburgh Festival. She graduated from the University of York and became a bus driver to finance her writing. The Brontes did what was available to them too, to earn money. They became tutors , governesses and teachers which they hated but stuck with these  jobs because there was nothing else for women in their situation and the family needed money. Wainwright came from that sort of position too, albeit in the present day. Sally Wainwright has gone on to create very successful television dramas including, At Home With The Braithwaites, Last Tango in Halifax and Happy Valley, all plays set in Yorkshire about Yorkshire people and she has also written for Coronation Street and The Archers. You could say she was predestined to write this drama about the lives of these Yorkshire writers, the Brontes.


Sally Wainwright.

There are two main strands in this biopic. There is a focus on Branwell, his attempts at becoming a professional artist, and writer and his dissolute character; an overriding precociousness believing the world owed him recognition as a great artist and writer. This is overlaid by his increasing drunkenness and alcoholism. We see the Bronte family struggling to barely function at times. We witness Branwell, almost destroying his father and sisters. The swearing and the implied and threatened physical abuse adds a bitter edge to the whole thing.
The second strand involves the literary pursuits of Anne, Emily and Charlotte, under the unbearable stresses caused by Branwell. Eventually, they kept their literary efforts a secret from him.  They wrote separately from each other, although they did use each other as critics. The contents of their novels, The Tennent of Wildfell Hall, Agnes Grey, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, reflect the intensity of the life they lived and the self analysis they went through about relationships, moral conflicts and the many hardships they themselves underwent as tutors and governesses. Just being a Bronte seemed hard. 
Branwell wrote to the editor of Blackwoods Magazine; their father Patrick was a subscriber. Branwell had sent the editor some examples of his writing in the hope of gaining employment.
“Haworth 4th January 1837
Now, is the trouble of writing a single line,to outweigh the certainty of doing good to a fellow creature and the possibility of doing good to yourself?- Will you still so wearisomely refuse me a word, when You can neither know what you refuse or whom you are refusing? Do you think your magazine so perfect that no edition to its power would be either possible or desirable? Is it pride which actuates you- or custom- or prejudice?- Be a man-Sir! And think no more of these things! Write to me-….”
You can sense Branwell’s frustration at not getting a reply. However, he is also being rude and on the verge of insulting the editor. Branwell  did not take rejection well. Throughout his short life any job or positon or talent he had was wasted. It has been suggested, that if Branwell was living now, he would be diagnosed with attention deficit syndrome.

Haworth Parsonage today.

 Blackwoods Magazine was a periodical begun by William Blackwood in 1817. It was a combative magazine with radical views not just about politics but also religion and society. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were permitted to read these articles, in fact Patrick Bronte encouraged his daughters to read widely and no books were off limits in his library. Patrick taught his children literature, geography, history, mathematics, the classics, Latin, French and poetry. He encouraged them to go walking on the moors and observe nature and experience the elements. All these things were to influence their writing.

Related image

The front cover of an edition of Blackwoods magazine.

An underlying theme in, To Walk Invisible, is the source of their creativity and their thinking about the world. The education and the breadth of reading was one aspect but playing and imagining was a very large part of their creative development as well. Creativity is something which schools today know they should have time for but  is not easy to include in the everyday school timetable.  The toy soldiers that Branwell was given at an early age triggered the creation of whole worlds, which existed alongside their actual lives. In their letters and diaries, it is sometimes difficult to see the difference between the real world and their imaginative worlds. Perhaps they didn’t separate them.
The Reverend Patrick Bronte provided the money, from his meagre income, for Branwell’s art education and the travelling expenses to go to interviews.This caused the family to make sacrifices financially  so that Branwell might pursue a career. Branwell, however,wasted his fathers and the family’s money. This is highlighted in To Wlak Invisible most sharply by Branwell’s abortive visit to London to apply for entry to the Royal Academy. Branwell was granted an interview at The Royal Academy and travelled to London, using the families much needed money but he never made it to the interview. He spent his time drinking and so used up the money before returning to Hawarth. He got into debt and was nearly arrested on occasions only for his father to bail him out. He became a tutor to the children of the Robinson family at Thorpe Green but began an affair with Mrs Robinson, who Branwell described in one letter to a friend as dark eyed and beautiful . He complained that she wouldn’t leave him alone. He was dismissed from this post and the experience hastened  his sinking into drug addiction and alcoholism. Anne had also been a governess to the children at Thorpe Green and resigned just before Branwells dismissal. Strangely the children remained in contact with Anne.They seemed to have formed an attachment to her.

The Black Bull Inn in Haworth where Branwell would go drinking.

Branwell was  a walking, breathing disaster, not only to himself but to the rest of his family. One aggressive scene in the film depicts a burly gentleman confronting Branwell outside the Black Bull Inn, situated at the top of Haworth High Street just outside the gates leading to the church and the Parsonage. The man wants his money and threatens Branwell. Emily intervenes and stands toe to toe, face to face with the man and threatens to hit him harder than he threatens to hit Branwell.  On another occasion Branwell is in such a drunken state, dragging himself home, the three sisters walk past trying to ignore him but Emily turns and goes back to him and holds and cradles him. Emily, for all her harshness and austere outlook, can’t help her feelings of love for her brother. It is a dour production. The clothing is muted, dark colours, the skies are overcast or the lighting is toned down on cloudless scenes. The language is violent at times, with swear words delivered with strong Yorkshire accents.There are scenes that verge on the physically violent. It gives a very powerful sense of the hard and difficult lives the Brontes lead.

The Chapter Coffee House was situated near here next to St Pauls Cathedral.

One of the most dramatic scenes in the programme is when Charlotte and Anne go to London to confront Charlotte’s publishers, Smith and Elder at 65 Cornhill in the City. A problem had arisen. Emily and Anne had a different publisher, a Mr Newby. There had been a lot of speculation in the newspapers as to who Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell actually were. Mr Newby was the publisher for Emily and Annes’ aliases, Ellis Bell (Emily Bronte) and Acton Bell (Anne Bronte) while Smith and Elder published Charlotte's work under the name of Currer Bell.  Mr Newby had caused speculation by suggesting that they were one and the same person. Having suggested this and because he had the manuscripts of Ellis and Acton Bell, he put it about that he had the rights to publish Currer Bells next novel after the great success of Jane Ayre. Smith and Elder were obviously very concerned about this and thought that Charlotte (Currer Bell ) had given her next manuscript to Mr Newby. They wrote to Currer Bell ( Charlotte Bronte) setting out their concerns. Even the sisters  own publishers did not know who they were other than by the aliases. Charlotte, thought it right to visit Smith and Elder on Cornhill to set things straight. She wanted all three of them to go but Emily refused. In the end just herself and Anne made the journey. 

A map drawn by Patrick Bronte to show his daughters Charlotte and Anne where the Chapter Coffee House was located.

The scene depicted in the programme follows closely the details of the visit to their publishers that Charlotte gave to a friend, Mary Taylor, in a letter, from Haworth, dated 4th September 1848.
“ We arrived at the Chapter Coffee House ( A cheap boarding house that members of the clergy used situated in, Paternoster Lane, next to St Pauls Cathedral) .. about eight o’clock in the morning. We washed ourselves- had some breakfast-sat a few minutes and then set off in queer, inward excitement, to 65 Cornhill. Neither Mr Smith nor Mr Williams knew we were coming- they had never seen us- they did not know whether we were men or women- but had always written to us as men.
We found 65- to be a large bookseller’s shop in a street almost as bustling as the Strand- we went in- walked up to the counter- there were a great many young men and lads here and there- I said to the first I could accost- “May I see Mr Smith-?” he hesitated, looked a little surprised- but went to fetch him-We sat down and waited a while- looking at some books on the counter-publications of theirs well known to us- many of which they had sent us copies as presents. At last somebody came up and said dubiously, “Did you want to see me, Ma’am?” “Is it Mr Smith?” I said looking up through my spectacles at a young, tall, gentlemanly man. “It is.” I then put his own letter into his hand addressed to Currer Bell. He looked at it- then at me- again- yet again- I laughed at his queer perplexity- a recognition took place- I gave my real name-“Miss Bronte”- We were both hurried from the shop into a little back room…”

The site of 65 Cornhill today. This was the site of Smith and Elder , Charlotte Brontes publisher.

This portrays Charlotte Bronte's propensity for the dramatic, not only in her writing, but in her life too. Many of her letters are vivid descriptions portraying her emotions, feelings and thoughts.
There were few opportunities for work for the unmarried daughters of poor clergy men. One thing they did acquire was an education which enabled them to be teachers and governesses. Their Aunt Bronte, their fathers sister, who lived with them after their mothers death, provided the money for Charlotte and Emily to spend time at the Pensionnat Heger run by  Monsieur Heger in Brussels. Charlotte's emotional attachment to ,Monsieur Heger, that developed while she was in Brussels, is not covered by this programme however. They learned French and some Italian and German. Ability with languages made them far more employable as teachers.They thought about setting up their own school in Haworth and had notices printed advertising ,”The Misses Brontes Establishment,” offering an extensive educational experience including a range of languages, mathematics,  writing , music, drawing, needlework and history. This was not successful, perhaps because of the remote location of the parsonage in Haworth.


Some buildings in Haworth near the church and the parsonage.

“To Walk Invisible,” has received some criticism for its harsh portrayal of difficult lives, the stresses placed on them all by Branwell and the sense of desperation  the three sisters felt in needing to make a living and earn money. We can learn something of their lives by reading their letters and through their novels and now through this television programme. The themes of their books reveal much. Anne wrote about the plight and hardships of being a governess in Agnes Grey. The Tennent of Wildfell Hall dealt with the topic of marital abuse and in particular the abuse of women that was exceedingly shocking to Victorian sensibilities and is pertinent today. Anne Bronte is becoming a woman’s movement icon.
“I see that a man cannot give himself up to drinking without being miserable one-half his days and mad the other.” 
Anne Bronte: The Tennent of Wildfell Hall
Emily wrote about the strength of human passion to almost a surreal level in Wuthering Heights and Charlotte dealt with issues of fidelity and love and morality in Jane Eyre.  
“Feeling . . . clamoured wildly. “Oh, comply!” it said. “. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?” Still indomitable was the reply: “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now.” 
Charlotte Bronte:Jane Eyre

A wooden carved panel on the door of 32 Cornhill depicting Charlotte and Anne Bronte meeting William Makepeace Thackeray at the offices of Smith, Elder and Co.

I think “To Walk Invisible,” captures many of the issues in the lives of the Bronte sisters. It can be said it is a modern view and that it is sensational but the evidence shows that there were sensational elements to their lives and their lives had rough and harsh elements.   Somebody dramatising the Brontes lives in fifty years time will have a different outlook and approach to it using the same facts and evidence.“To Walk Invisible,” is a powerful piece of television drama and Sally Wainwright is the right person to have written the script and produced the TV programme. “Eeh by gum! Flippin eck!” 

References:
 http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/tv/walk-invisible

https://www.bronte.org.uk/

The Brontes: A Life In Letters by Juliet Barker

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte