The Brontes are partly responsible for my move up North six years. As a child, Iwon abridged versions of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre but never touched them as a) they didn’t have pirates or cannons on the front cover and b) they weren’t written by R.L. Stevenson. I did read the ‘complete and unabridged’ version of Heights years later because it was a set text for my mock GCSEs, and what fascinated me most about it was not the story, but the setting. The windswept moors! The house on the cliffs! The wild, dark, angry skies! It was a world so far away from my own Mediterranean existence, it might as well have been the moon.
Years later in drama school we had a talk from a Russian professor who told us that Chekov might well have had the Brontes in mind when he wrote Three Sisters. The comparison got me interested in the Brontes, if not their work, especially their ill-fated brother Branwell who squandered his talent on women, drink and fatal doses of laudanum. I read up on them, toyed with the idea of writing a story about Branwell and put Haworth on my list of places to visit once I had moved to the UK.
Fast forward to 2005 and I find myself in Bradford for the widescreen weekend of the Bradford International Film Festival. It’s not my first visit; I’ve been coming to the widescreen weekend since it started fifteen years ago, but I’ve never stayed long enough to visit nearby Howarth. The festival is always held in March when my diary is jam-packed with school visits. But 2005 is a turning point in my life. I’ve just come out of a 20 year relationship, I am emotionally exhausted, and I need a few days off to tinker with the life compass. I decide to stay on in Bradford for a few days and visit Haworth.
In the museum cafe, a woman in a smart blue coat and enough vintage jewellery to kit out a stall at Alfie’s Antiques in London pokes me gently in the back. ‘Hi,’ she says, ‘I’m Pam. You won’t remember me but you came to my school for our book week a few years ago.’
I didn’t remember Pam, not because she’s not worth remembering, but because I’ve been to hundreds of schools over the years and met just as many teachers and school staff. We get to talking and I mention Haworth. ‘It’s about an hour from here on the train,’ I said.
‘It’s more like twenty minutes away,’ Pam corrects me. ‘You take the train to Keighley and then the bus. There’s a steam train too but it only runs at the weekends in winter. The Keighley train goes through Saltaire where I live. You can pop in and have a coffee with us. My husband Phil was stationed out in Malta. He’d love to meet you.’ One of the few perks of being Maltese is that everyone seems to have some sort of connection with the place.
The next day I went to Haworth, which I found quaint and everything a Yorkshire village should be. The Bronte parsonage was closed but I did visit the apothecary where Branwell used to get his laudanum and I purchased a ginger bath bomb. But what really changed my life that day was tea with Pam and her husband Phil.
You see, I liked Pam and Phil. And I liked Saltaire, the industrial village where they live. I liked it so much, in fact, that I walked into the offices of Dacres, Son and Hartley and made an offer on a house. Just like that! It might take me months to change barbers, switch favourite pizza toppings or choose swimming trunks, but when it comes to life-decisions, give me three minutes and I’m done.
I moved on the 6th of November six years ago, so it seemed appropriate to celebrate that birthday with a visit to the Laurence Battley Theatre in Halifax to see Blake Morrisson’s We Are Three Sisters, a play about the Brontes in Howarth, inspired by Chekov’s masterpiece.
I’ve been to the theatre many times in my life and I’ve enjoyed most of of what I’ve seen but I have only ever been moved, and I mean really moved, by three productions. The first one was Martin Sherman’s Bent at the Criterion in London. The second was Journey’s End in Eastbourne, and the third time was in Huddersfield last week. I came away reeling with emotion [and I don’t usually do emotion] and forgot to take notes. So I’ll post about the play when my head’s cleared, and I’ve done my word count for the week. Which reminds me, I’d better get on with it…….Nutcracker here I come!