Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An emotional trip, England again, St, Joseph’s College reunion, my childhood revisited.

Hello again

I am writing from my desk at home in Madrid now that it is all over. It has been an intensely emotional trip and as we did so many things and saw so many people, this post is going to be quite extensive.

Amanda picked me up and I was delighted to encounter excellent weather in England with temperatures in their mid 20’s. Ironically it was raining in Spain and did so all through my stay in England. Who said, the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain?

We drove to their lovely English style country house in Surrey and immediately got out our laptops. I did have work to do but must admit I am a bit of an addict and cannot stand to have one e-mail unread!

Amanda's house
Soon we had to go and fetch Jake. Jake is Amanda’s youngest son and the only “child” living at home now. Cordelia, his older sister, is studying music in London and Andy’s kids are also away; Jonathan in his final year at University and Jane at boarding school. So the house was a bit empty. Jake is wonderful; funny, sweet, loving and probably charismatic. Right now he is a proper teenager as you can see from the picture he allowed me to take outside his prestigious school. Love you Jake.

After a long day on the plane and waiting around, a walk was in order and Amanda took me on a lovely one. The English countryside was looking its best with flowers in bloom, everything green and the sun shining. There was quite a lot of fauna around too which had me snapping my camera away at horses and rabbits all along the route.

Amanda on the walk
Andy was back after a very long day and very cheekily for us, he made dinner; well grilled the great M+S steaks on the barbecue. What a great dinner, all washed down by a bit too much wine I’m afraid and which I was to pay for badly the next day.

Yes the next day, the day of our journey to the North for our school reunion, I woke up with a headache which got worse as the day went on and which at one stage I thought might mean cancelling the Centenary dinner; but it didn’t. We arrived in Haworth, that picturesque dark Yorkshire village of the Brontë sister fame and made our way to the Weaver's Restaurant where we had a lunch reservation. My headache was so bad I thought I couldn’t eat but funnily enough a bit of food actually helped.

We then checked into Ashmount House which really impressed us. This had been the village doctors’ house before and the names of the rooms were called by the previous inhabitants. The house, a 5 star guest house, met up to our expectations. It was so Brontë period and very well kept as you can see from the pictures. All bedrooms had four poster beds, the house was spotless with superb furniture and the garden which was very well kept was full of spring flowers and even had hens whose eggs were served at breakfast!! Breakfast of course, was top class, as were the dining rooms.

Ashmount Guest House

My four poster bed which I had to enjoy alone

The dining room at Ashmount House
We had a couple of hours to spare so decided to have a quick look around the village and take a long walk to further clear my headache.

Haworth has not changed at all and never has in all the time I have known it. It seems to have stopped in time since the Brontë sisters died. It has many many tourists visiting; many from Japan and the USA but remains unspoilt. One thing has changed though and that is obviously the age of mortality. When the Brontë sisters lived there in the early 1800’s the average age of mortality was 29, worse even then the worst London slums at the time!!!

The main street in Haworth
We walked around the steep and narrow cobbled streets but concentrated our visit on the Parish Church where the Brontë sisters’ father was the Parson – funnily enough he outlived all his children and died in his 80’s – and on the streets around the The Bronte Parsonage Museum which was, of course, their home.

The Church

The Brontë Parsonage
We ventured behind the Parsonage and into the countryside outside the village, past sheep riddled fields and through kissing gates and onto the moor, the one we would have liked to think was the one from Wuthering Heights but which actually wasn’t. And in our minds was what it must have been like for Anne, Charlotte and Emily when they lived there.

With our minds relaxed and my headache diminishing we made our way back to our lovely rooms to get ready for our much looked forward to Centenary Grand Dinner for St. Joseph’s College past pupils (girls catholic school in Bradford) taking place at the The Bankfield Hotel in Bingley nearby and starting at the unearthly English time of 7pm!

There we were to meet up with 2 friends from school with whom we were once very close and whom I hadn’t seen for 18 years and whom Amanda hadn’t seen since we left school; Brenda Maher and Ellen Byrn. Brenda and I were very close at school. She was my neighbour who lived in Redburn Drive and we often used to study together at her house –well actually we spent more time having butter fights or playing the Ouija board!!

The dinner was attended by about 140 people including staff from the past too. The oldest past pupil was 90! We sat on tables of our years and ours was 1975 the year we left. On our table were other “girls” from our year: Mary Drake, Geraldine Appleby, Jane McEvoy, Catherine Breen and Beverley Chivers.

Our table, Maureen O'Connell, Mary Drake, Geraldine Appleby, Beverley Chivers, Catherine Breen.

Ellen Byrne, Amanda (Sharon)Leonard, Brenda Maher and Jane McEvoy
The person we most wanted to meet was Miss Fair, our Geography teacher who later went on to become the headmistress. She was a real blue stocking but with a lot of character and quite serious and strict. Today she must be 80. We remember pearls from her when she came back from a field trip to Chile: “It’s rather chilly in here girls” was one which we sniggered at. Another was when the M62 was built and which she described as “a marvellous feat of engineering”. Worse was to poor Ellen Byrn: “Why are you doing A’ Levels? I thought you were more interested in your eye shadow! The latter spurred Ellen on in life as after her children were born she decided to take a degree and take her revenge on Miss Fair. Today she is a successful infant school teacher.

I was devastated that Miss Fair didn’t remember me at first (she did later when I reminded her that my Mother had taught Russian at the school and my Father had been a teacher at BGS); not even for being naughty which I was. In contrast she gushed at Amanda who had been to Oxford. I would like to remember her as a sort of Miss Jean Brodie but I’m afraid she was nothing like that, not particularly friendly either.

Group photo with Miss Fair

Amanda and I, an official photo taken at the dinner
We also met Miss Jackson who had taken us to Paris when we were 14, Father McCarthy, our Chaplain, and the eternal Mrs. Plunkett Jones who is part of the school furniture but very much alive. I remember as a child causing havoc. It had snowed heavily and I spread the rumour that we were having the day off which we weren’t. So the girls started leaving, walking up the steep hill of Cunliffe Road. Mrs. Plunkett Jones desperately called out to them: “Girls come back, girls come back”. But they never did. I wonder if she ever knew it had been me?

The next day we were up early (well I was up at 7 instead of 8 as I hadn’t changed the Spanish time, silly me!!) to enjoy our English breakfast and to visit the Brontë museum before going off to the School Open day for past pupils which was to start at noon.

I must have visited the Brontë parsonage a dozen times in my life but it always impresses me: the Father’s study, the room where the girls wrote, the kitchen where Emily propped up her German verb book whilst kneading bread, the children’s bedrooms and their clothes. I can remember it vividly. It’s a haunting sort of place. We also visited the museum shop and I bought some lovely memorabilia, such as the famous picture painted by their brother Branwell. It will grace my walls at home and I know it won’t look tacky. I also bought a copy of the first book written by Charlotte, The Professor and look forward to reading it after my Father.

The Brontë sisters, the only known painting of them together, Anne, Charlotte and Emily
Soon it was time to set off to Bradford, our childhood home, that very northern, ugly and depressed, industrial city in England which I always hated as a child and never wanted to live in. Bradford has become even more Asian than when I remembered it and even then 1 out of 3 in a population of 300.000 were from Pakistan. Today the ratio must be higher.

Ugly Bradford

Asian Bradford!
I was born in Cambridge and lived in Lincolnshire from parents who were not from Yorkshire either (that’s for another story as you probably know the origins of my Mother, a Russian aristocrat born in Rome but a citizen of the world, and my Father, that very English gentleman born in Tamworth but another citizen of the world). We moved to Bradford when I was 7 because my Father got a job as a teacher of languages (Russian, German and French) at Bradford Grammar School and they bought a marvellous house at 6 Heaton Grove, where many a party was held when I was a teenager as some of my friends from those times will remember.

So I have mixed feelings about Bradford. I always had problems with my weight and I felt I never really fit in. I didn’t have the local accent and I didn’t want it as I felt I was only passing through. I was not a good student. I misbehaved abominably at school and only just got through by the skin of my teeth. I woke up in the 6th form when I suddenly realised I had to pull my finger out as I had to go to University. There was not other option in my life. Of course, there were happy times and some of those were at St. Joseph’s College.

Amanda and I had been back on a short visit in 1999 which helped to jog our memory a bit. Not much had changed from the outside. The whole event was very well organised I must say and had a very happy feeling to it.

Arriving at the school, 33 years later!

Entering - Amanda and I flanked by 2 1st year pupils.
A funny little girl selling prayer books. I didn't buy one!
The place was crawling with middle aged and old women all with huge smiles on their faces. Pupils from the 1st year and the 6th form were on hand to help us around and seeing them reminded us of ourselves at that age.


The 3 Kappa girls (Amanda, me, Brenda) in our original 1 Kappa classroom.
There was a programme to follow. However we were forever waylaid talking to people and chancing off to find our 1 kappa form or sneaking into the out of bounds teachers’ common room. We even took photos in the loos where we used to smoke!. We bumped into Sister Moya who must now be in her 70’s. Also as we seemed to take 5 photos on each occasion our programme was slowed down enormously.

With Sister Moya in the 4th form corridor.
One of the most interesting finds on our route was a room with the school photo archives next to the 6th from library. Here we found ourselves in 6th form group photos. I promptly took a picture of one of myself in 1974.

My class in 1974. I suppose you can guess who I am.
And it was in the 6th form library that we actually found some other girls who were in that same group photo, Andrea Longstaff and Anne Marie McDermott. Someone had the great idea of having an official photo taken of the girls from our year present that day and this is the result.

The "girls" from our year (1969-1975) in the official photo.
We also managed to visit the dining room where we had a snack and remembered the awful school dinners including some classics like mashed potatoes or tapioca!. But soon it was time for the memorial mass. When Amanda and I were at school we never went because we weren’t Catholic. We were actually going to skip the memorial mass as we had to rush off but our friends persuaded us to stay and I am very glad we did. It was a great end to the day to be gathered in Our Lady’s Hall where all the big events of our school years took place, to see the choir again (although ours in the famous O’Rourke days was much better) and to hear Father McCarthy’s moving sermon about our teenage years.

Suddenly it was 5 0’clock and time to go. Brenda, Amanda, Ellen and I just had to visit a couple of haunts, including the 6th form common room, before we left and to sit on the bench outside the 4th form corridor just as we used to in the breaks. Wow, that was 33 years ago. And time has indeed passed.

Bradford was not over for me yet. That day we also had to visit our old neighbours and then have dinner at Amanda’s brother and sister-in-law’s house, Simon and Gill who live in Sowerby Bridge.

The next stop was 6 Heaton Grove where I took a quick photo of what had been our home since the mid 60’s until 2004. I knew my Father would love to see it. We parked outside number 6 but walked into number 5 to see the Wrights who have lived there far longer than us. Margaritte, the Mother is 100 this year and Susan her daughter is now 74. But neither of them look their age, more sort of eternal. It was a lovely reunion with just enough time to catch up on the gossip, all mostly related to their Pakistani neighbours and to Mr. Nawaz the man who bought our house and whom Susan “hates” so much!

6 Heaton Grove, my childhood home.

Margaritte and Susan, our lifelong neighbours at Heaton Grove.
From the Writes we made our way to Morrison's to get some wine to take to Simon's. It was here I found my wallet was missing. There were a few minutes of panic until I realised I had left it at Susan’s. So we had to go back of course making us even later. But it was well worth the effort. Simon and Gill’s house is lovely; it’s a very tastefully decorated cottage near Halifax with a huge garden and great view of the Yorkshire countryside. Simon is the perfect cook who made a great dinner including a prawn starter, duck a l’orange and chocolate mousse. I mustn’t forget to add he actually made the delicious bread rolls. I was so impressed that I took a picture of them.

After dinner and before I fell asleep in front of my hosts (terribly sorry Simon and Gill), Becky the oldest daughter who is going to read English at Nottingham University this year – my old University - introduced me to a great poem. We had been talking about films and somehow got on to talking about 4 weddings and a funeral which I haven’t seen and they highly recommend. Apparently in this film a poem by Wystan Hugh Auden called Funeral Blues is referred to and which they love. So Becky read it out and I immediately fell in love with it too. And here it is if you want to read it which I recommend you do: Funeral Blues. I just love how it starts: Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dogs from barking with a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled drum, Bring out the coffin, let them mourners come.
Becky reading the poem.
We had to make a short evening of it as we were both physically and emotionally pretty tired after the day’s events and the evening before so we got an earlier night in at our lovely guest house in Haworth.

Sunday was ours for the taking and after a good breakfast and packing, we were off to Bolton Abbey in glorious May weather. Bolton Abbey was a favourite childhood haunt and is a beautiful Yorkshire spot by the River Wharfe. It is here where the the famous Monk’s stepping stones are in lush green meadows with picture box Friesian cows.

The stepping stones
From here we made our way to the Strid wood that very ominous but beautiful part of the river Wharfe which has claimed so many lives in its underwater caves. Anyone who falls in never gets out and many a silly boy or girl try to jump across it at a narrow point which is very possible to do but extremely dangerous because of the slippery moss covered rocks. My brother jumped across it on various occasions and my Mother was in constant fear of the place for what I understand now to be a very good reason.

The Strid my Mother hated so much. I felt guilty being there.
However the place is one of the most beautiful in the world with heavenly flora to contemplate on the walk including blankets of blue bells at this time of year.

People were bathing and making barbecues but we had a date with one of our favourite places to eat in Yorkshire Betty’s café in Ilkley, one of the lovelier towns in West Yorkshire and very near the Dales.

This is how they serve tea at Betty's
And here I indulged in one of those things I miss most about England, fish and chips. And don’t Betty’s make just the best!

And that was the end of our marvellous trip to Yorkshire, down memory lane and to revisit our childhood and see our school and meet up with old faces. It was time to leave. We left Yorkshire with our hearts very much touched, as they still are as I write.

Home we went to Surrey to briefly see Andy and Jake before going to bed, tired but content.

Monday brought with it a day in London. Oh, for a day in London! What pleasure. We did do some work in the morning. I mean, I did have to sort out my e-mails and make a few calls. But as soon as the decks were clear, Amanda and I were off by train to Waterloo. Here we briefly met up with darling Cordelia who lives nearby. She looked enchanting.

Mother and daughter at Waterloo.
Lunch was at some marvellous place in Kensington High Street. This time we indulged in sea food and white wine; just the thing to put us in to the spirit of shopping in Marks and Spencers. There are many shops in England but it is my favourite. Here I filled my basket with underwear, swimwear, cosmetics and t-shirts for us all. Then a quick visit to Boots, that other great shop I miss so much and finally to Whittards to buy Oli a special mug for her breakfast coffee.

Happy outside M+S in Kensington High Street.
The evening wasn’t planned but it ended up with dinner in Covent Garden with Amanda, Andy and Cord. It was so nice to have dinner with them in London.

And so soon, there I was packing to leave. Packing was a bit of a hitch as with all my purchases including 3 big Yorkshire prints I had bought at Bolton Abbey, there was no way everything was going to fit in my suitcase. So we had to drive to Guilford to buy a cheap hold all. In the end I was carrying 35 kgs and had to pay for 10 kgs excess which Easyjet charge at 6 pounds per kilo!!! Wow did my M+S shopping turn out to be expensive.

Me laughing over my packing; mission impossible!
Travelling back was ok but not as exciting as travelling out. The nicest thing was having Eladio meet me off the plane in Madrid.

Then I was home and opening my huge hold all full of presents for all the family, including an English tweed cap for my Father and 2 copies of the Bradford Telegraph and Argus. It felt like Christmas!

Now it’s all over but it was great. I have already written to the other “girls” and sent them some photos. Some have replied and I think that soon, quite soon, there maybe a girly reunion, maybe in Manchester. Look out for that on this blog.

Cheers till next time


Neil Hainsworth said...

I really enjoyed reading this. it brought back a lot of memories for me. I was at St Bede's in 6th form from 1970-73 (yes, 3 years on account of too much partying in uppeer 6th.)
The photos are wonderful. Best wishes
Neil Hainsworth

Meg Hartley said...

I left SJC in 1952 - a very different school in those days - very proper. Mrs Plunkett-Jones was there when I was there so can't imagine how old she is now as I am now 78. She came to the school as Miss Blanchfield and got married whilst working there. She was quite small as I remember with black curls and I remember her playing Puck in the school play Midsummer Night's Dream. We used to call her Mrs Junkett Prunes. Wish you had posted a picture of her.

Josephine Hartley

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I went to SJC in 1973 and have, like you quite mixed memories of it. You're feelings about Miss Fair are exactly the same as mine!

I moved away from Bradford in 1991 to live in the Midlands. It was lovely to look at the photos of Ilkley and the Strid too - they brought back wonderful memories of my childhood as did my sister's wedding in Burnsall last year!! - Bradford is very different now, I hardly recognise some places!!!

Liz Morton

Masha Lloyd said...

Thanks so much for your comment. Interesting you were at SJC around the same time as me. How did you come across my blog? I am always curious as to who reads it

Anonymous said...

Hello Mash,
my name is Monika Schwahn, née Mertens from Bonn, Germany.
Between 1971 and 1975 I had penfriend named Jane McEvoy from Fagley, Bradford. She visited me and my family in 1973 and I vistied her in 1975. I wonder if she is the same JaneMcEvoy you mention in your blog.
If yes, that woulf be fantastic and I hope Jane would like to contact me again.
If not, I try to find her again.
Kindest regards from Germany, Monika