Bronte Project: Visiting the Parsonage

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The Parsonage (and a a rare photo of Benn!)

I’ve been to the Parsonage so many times (it’s one of the things that happens when you grow up in a bookish family in West Yorkshire…) but I never get bored. I was especially interested in the Bronte 200 celebrations, which aim to mark the 200th anniversaries of the births of Charlotte (2016), Branwell (this year), Mr Bronte arriving in Haworth (2018) and the birth of Anne (2019). I was especially keen to visit after we found Anne Bronte’s grave last year.

Of course, when you’re in Yorkshire, you should really start off your lunch with rhubarb gin…

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One thing that was really exciting was that the Parsonage now has the ACTUAL table that the sisters wrote at. It was acquired in 2015 and it was the first time I’d seen it. Imagine- the ACTUAL table that Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were written on. This was the table the sisters paced round as they discussed their projects. There’s even an E carved into the wood.

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I am aware that this is a rubbish photo. It is actually quite impressive in real life.

Throughout the house, there are costumes from To Walk Invisible, the Sally Wainwright drama that was shown over Christmas. The attention to detal was so amazing- it’s a shame my photography couldn’t do it justice.

This year is all about Branwell, the tragic Bronte brother, who should have been a great success but instead fell from grace. There are dedicated exhibitions: one is a recreation of his bedroom during the last years of his life, which was surprisingy melancholic. Branwell has been painted as a ne’er-do-well, but he was also a bit of an unfortunate soul and the bedroom really reflects this.

There’s also a dedicated area to Branwell’s written work, with new poetry by Simon Armitage. The best bit is seeing stuff in ‘the flesh’ that you’ve only ever seen in books- one of these was the famous Branwell sketch ‘A Parody’, which he drew in a fit of self-pity whilst ill. It was genuinely a bit of a thrill for a Bronte nerd.

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One of the things I was desperate to do was to participate in an art project by artist Clare Twomey, in which visitors to the Parsonage are invited to write a line from Wuthering Heights into a new manuscript. This is because the original, handwritten by Emily Bronte, has been lost. Each participant is asked to write a line from the novel with a pencil (you get to keep the pencil at the end, to encourage you to continue writing.) I was given a line from chapter 27, in which Linton begs Catherine not to leave, or else he’ll die.I was a bit miffed I got a horrible character, but hey ho, that’s the luck of the draw. I wrote VERY carefully, so that a) my writing was legible and b) I didn’t make a mistake. Anyway, I managed it and I’m quite chuffed that my name is in something that’s sort of historical.

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Part of my Haworth tradition is making a pilgrimage to the church where the family are buried (without Anne, who is buried in Scarborough.) Although the Brontes would not have recognised the church as it is now- it was remodelled after Mr Bronte’s death- there is a sense of tranquility and history.

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Note the vase of heather from the moors

It was a lovely day- and to mark it, I HAD to buy something that combined two of my favourite things (there should be more book-based tea blends, IMHO):

21248346_10154868783112267_1111194524416760488_o I’ll report back on the tea ASAP.

Sunday Tea: Interview with Krisi Smith, founder of Bluebird Tea Co.

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Mike and Krisi outside their Brighton store Image: Bluebird Tea Co.

I’m really proud to say that I’ve worked with Bluebird Tea Co. for a few years now and it’s be been brilliant watching the business grow from a market stall (which, bravely, they once let me man!) to three stores in Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and Bristol. I talk to Krisi over a Spiced Pumpkin Pie latte (what else?!) about a whirlwind year-including a new book, the future of Bluebird and the challenges of preparing for Christmas sales. Keep reading for a giveaway too!

Some autumnal tea treats from @bluebirdteaco - treated myself in town today. Might get @krisismithteamixologist to sign this book when I see her next ūüėČ Also @klinakloen taught me the importance of a good stroopwaffle with tea- these are from Tiger. #autumn #pumpkinspice #tea #amreading #treatyoself #stroopwafel:

Can you tell me about the book- how it came about, what the initial plan was and what the process of writing it was like?

Bluebird has led me to so many exciting opportunities; I’ve always wanted to write, but I always thought I’d write fiction! The publishers, Octopus, approached me and asked me if I’d like to write a book about tea; they publish a series of ‘atlas’ books about different things- such as wine and coffee- and wanted an expert to write a book about tea. Of course I said yes! I was concerned that I might have some gaps in my knowledge- we don’t deal in single estate teas, for example, but Mike (Krisi’s husband and Bluebird Tea Co.’s co-founder) said that I would have to factor in plenty of time for research, which I did. I also really wanted to get something really creative in the book, such as the mixology section. I wanted to really show how important tea is around the world- it’s drunk in almost every country in the world, but in very different ways: but always socially. I wanted to write in a more lighthearted tone than some of the other books in the series. The publishers were ¬†supportive of my ideas and really good to work with throughout the process. It’s been two years in the making and I’m really happy with the final product.

You recently went to the T2 Chai Championships in Sydney. What was that like?

It was awesome- another opportunity that landed in my lap. It’s amazing how much stuff has come my way; I have to pinch myself sometimes. It was a competition to find the best chai, a way to publicise the new T2 store in Regent’s Street. I didn’t realise until a week before that it was all done live! On the day, we were given a box of stuff and 40 minutes to create a tea, as well as to create a show. I know the boys at Mixology Group in Brighton who mix cocktails and so they’d given me some lessons on how to perform for the crowd, as it’s something I’m just not used to doing. The whole thing was really different to how we usually create our teas! I won the London heat, which I never in a million years thought I’d win- there was some pretty stiff competition- and then went on to Sydney. (You can buy Krisi’s winning blend- Lapsang Chai– as part of the current range of autumn teas.)

Bluebird works with a lot of bloggers- how does that work?

When we moved here, I put together a list of the local bloggers and sent out an email letting people know that we were going to be a Brighton-based brand and asking whether could we send out some tea (which is pretty much how we do it now). No one turns down free tea! We work with different types of bloggers; we try and work with lots of people, with different sizes of online presence. Even if a blogger sends a smaller group of people to us, they might be more passionate about tea. There’s a place for all types of blogger and we’re not snobby about who we work with. We want to be inclusive of anyone who wants to get involved.

What do you think are the big trends coming through in tea- for example, using it in recipes has been massive on Bake Off this year?

I would consider that we’ve been the leader when it comes to iced teas and the tea lattes market, but the baking has become a big thing. It’s lifestyle baking, people want to produce recipes that are photo-worthy or content-worthy and getting something a bit special in there. Tea’s become fashionable for that. Matcha’s been fashionable for the last couple of years and is still going strong: matcha in baking, matcha smoothies, matcha chocolate. Also, it’s not really hit down in Brighton yet, but in London there’s a trend for ‘healthy’ cocktails using teas instead of sugary juices or cordials. Pumpkin’s going crazy, too. This has led us to think about making our teas more vegan friendly- there are sprinkles in the Spiced Pumpkin Pie that are not vegan. Most of our teas are vegan-friendly, we have a vegan section on our website and we have vegan customers and staff members and we’re seeing what we can do to improve this. I’ve spent all year trying to find vegan marshmallows for example! We want to be accessible to everyone and trying to balance that is a challenge that we’re working on. I do want to listen to feedback and provide what our customers want.

What can we expect in the next few months- can we have a sneaky preview of the Christmas range?

Alternative Advent Calendar:

Not going to lie, I really want one of these. Image: Bluebird Tea Co.

We’ve found that people are asking for Christmas products earlier, especially since we’ve become bigger- people are excited and they want to get prepared. So this year we’ve launched some of our Christmas products a bit earlier than before. We’ve been planning Christmas since June! We have some lovely products, like the advent calendar, which we’re really proud of. It was a big investment and a big risk, as it’s not a cheap product to put together. We launched it a week ago and they’re flying out already. We’re still planning a big official launch in November, but we wanted to let those people who wanted to be organised and to let those who were just perusing have a look at what we have. It’ll be our first Christmas in our Bristol and Tunbridge Wells stores. We’re going into Christmas this year with a really solid team.

What’s next for Bluebird?

We’re sort of at the limits now as to where we can be as an organic company. We’re at a nice size for what we are, but we may look at crowdfunding an equity sale of a very small amount of shares in the business in order to grow what we do. I think we have a great concept and I’d love for us to be on more high streets, to employ so many more people, to create so many more experiences and to meet so many more cool people along the way. We’ve proven it works and we have a great team. I’m really interested in exploring ¬†a way to do this and crowdfunding fits with our ethos. We have loads of people getting in touch asking if we can open on their high street and this would be a way to do it. I’ve always been the one to say ‘We can do this’, but I’m cautious about this, how will it change the way we are now? I don’t want to be a big chain, so it’s all about the way we do it. It’s exciting.

GIVEAWAY! I have a copy of The World Atlas of Tea worth £20 to giveaway to one reader. All you have to do to be entered is leave a comment below, telling me what your favourite tea is. Extra entries can be gained by following me on Twitter/Instagram (@wuthering_alice) and leaving your usernames in the comments. Giveaway will close at midnight on October 23rd and competition is open to UK entries only (sorry.) You can buy the book here.

EDITED TO ADD: PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU LEAVE AN EMAIL ADDRESS OR OTHER WAY TO CONTACT YOU IF YOU WIN.

A few favourite baking books

So everyone’s in a state of GBBO mourning at the moment, aren’t they? As I write, Paul Hollywood has just been confirmed as the only member of the original quartet to have signed a deal to go over to the dark side (well, Channel 4. Which, to be honest, is the next best channel after the BBC to host a show like GBBO- but I know that’s not a popular opinion.) Anyway, this got me thinking- I do own two of Hollywood’s baking books, but I NEVER bake from them. And if you follow me on any social media channel, you’ll know I bake quite a lot. I like the books, they’re very pretty- but they’re just too fiddly and faffy for the type of stuff I like to bake. I’m probably more of a Bezza baker than a Hollywood baker, although I’ve never picked up one of Mary’s books.

But there are some books I use over and over.

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Bake- Rachel Allen

This was the first baking book I ever picked up (I had never seen Rachel Allen on the TV; I just wanted a baking book.) I learnt a few skills here, but I have found the recipes a bit hit and miss. However, as a first book, it was OK. I still swear by the honey cake and snickerdoodles in this, though.

51pxbskes6l-_sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_ Be-Ro Home Baked Recipes

Cheap and cheerful, the Be-Ro book is a proper, old-school classic. This is the book that I turn to when D wants to bake: gingerbread men, shortbread, tea loaves. It’s all the stuff your mum or nan probably made and the recipes are simple and straightforward (and you can get away with using margarine in most of them if you’ve run out of butter!)

510cb-crdgl-_sx258_bo1204203200_ Home Sweet Home- The Hummingbird Bakery

This book is one of the biggest bargains ever- I think I picked it up for a fiver. It’s stuffed full of what I think of as ‘showstoppers’, cakes that I pull out for fancy things and when I want to impress. My go-to brownie recipe is from Hummingbird (although I’ve tinkered with it so much now, it’s virtually unrecognisable from the basic recipe) and the strawberry milkshake cupcakes are seriously good. This is the book that really helped develop my skills onto more than just ‘basic’.

cover Flavour- Ruby Tandoh

I love Ruby’s recipes and have never had one fail. I was lucky enough that she sent me a signed copy of the book after I mentioned on Twitter that I had borrowed it from the library and loved it. Although it’s not really a baking book, but a book with baking recipes in it, I urge you to check it out. I can HUGELY recommend the easy chocolate cake- it is the only cake I’ve ever made that worked every time, and I’ll be making it for D’s fourth birthday in a couple of weeks. I’ve also made a banana cake and the shine theory truffles, which I adapted by adding rose and violet flavouring (I have plans for Christmas editions too… watch out for a future blogpost on those!) But what I really love about this book is the attitude in it- that we should eat what we like, and just ENJOY food. In a world obsessed with clean eating, it’s a refreshing change.

 

 

Thoughts from beside Anne Bronte’s grave

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Anne Bronte is the only member of the family to be buried in Scarborough; after her death, aged 29 in 1849, Charlotte made the decision to ‘lay the flower where it had fallen’ and bury her sister quickly (there were three mourners at Anne’s funeral- Charlotte, their friend Ellen Nussey and their old school teacher, Miss Wooler.) The spot she chose would have been picturesque in 1849, beneath the castle walls and with a view out to the north bay. It still is a peaceful spot, albeit the bottom half of the graveyard is now a car park. Nothing, it seems, gets in the way of¬†modernity.

Harbour from the top of the castle #scarboroughcastle #scarborough #sea…:

View of the North Bay and harbour from the top of Scarborough Castle

Although I knew I definitely wanted to visit Anne’s grave, I was taken aback when D and I stumbled upon it by accident on a morning walk (where inspired by the old fellas on their walks to buy papers or to give their dogs a wander, he began to return their greetings with a cheery- and very northern- ‘MORNING!’, much to everyone’s amusement.) Unbeknownst to us, we were staying five minutes away.

The day was warm and sunny, and even D realised we were somewhere that required a bit of quiet. We sat on a bench next to the grave and looked at the view; the sea was calm and the view was stunning. I noticed that there was a spot in front of the grave where the feet of people who were visiting had worn away the grass. I wondered how many people visited the spot every day. I’d been told that there were often flowers on the grave, but there were none on either of the two days I visited. I had looked for wildflowers to put down, but had had no look. Maybe they would have been more appropriate for Emily anyway.

In a funny way, I think it’s appropriate that Anne is the Bronte who is not buried at Haworth; she was the only member of the family who really had any professional success in a job away from home. Although she disliked being a governess, she was able to cope being away from her siblings. If it was Emily buried far away, I imagine she’d haunt Scarborough like Cathy until her remains were returned to the family vault.

Also, in a lot of ways, Anne is the family outcast. In a literary sense, she’s often left out in the cold. I’ve never met anyone who raves about her work in the same way they do about that of her sisters. No one ever says, breathlessly, that they are definitely an ‘Anne’. So maybe it’s fitting that the quietest Bronte is on her own, and noticed and visited for herself.

A few days later, we were in York when I had a sudden urge to walk down a particular street. It turned out that some part of my subconscious apparently remembered that there was a Bronte-related plaque:

Casual #Bronte spotting in #York. It's now a Next.:

“On 24 May 1849, Anne said her goodbyes to her father and the servants at Haworth, and set off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen Nussey. En route, they spent a day and a night in York, where, escorting Anne around in a wheelchair, they did some shopping, and at Anne’s request, visited York Minster. However, it was clear that Anne had little strength left.”

I must have walked past it on previous trips to ¬†York, but something drew me back- it’s pretty inconspicuous. After I took the picture and was walking away, it dawned on me that the reason that Anne and Charlotte had stayed on the site was that they were on their way to Scarborough, where Anne would die four days later. Four days had lapsed between finding the grave and finding the plaque.

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Anne’s death, coming as it did so soon after those of Emily and her brother Branwell, seems so tragic. Her apparent strength in the face of death seems brave and admirable (although it seems that Charlotte’s claim that her sister welcomed and longed for death are wrong; Anne wrote in a letter that she had many things she still wished to accomplish.)

On Sunday, 27 May, Anne asked Charlotte whether it would be easier if she returned home to die instead of remaining in Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was close. Anne received the news quietly. She expressed her love and concern for Ellen and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte’s distress, whispered to her to “take courage”.¬†Conscious and calm, Anne died at about two o’clock in the afternoon, Monday, 28 May 1849.

There’s a plaque on the side of the Grand Hotel commemorating the place of her death..

I mused on the life of a quiet, shy woman who had written books that challenged early Victorian views of women. I wondered whether she would have been happy with the choice of her final resting place, or whether she would have preferred to be buried in the church at Haworth. And then, my thoughts interrupted by the chattering of an excited child desperate to get down to the beach, I walked back home in the sunshine.

Happy birthday, Charlotte Bronte

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Today it’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. As a Yorkshire woman (despite being born in Wales and currently living in Brighton, I have my county written in my bones like Scarborough through a stick of rock) and a literature fan- as well as simply a reader- it feels important to mark this anniversary.

Despite Charlotte not being my favourite of the Brontes- in her letters, I find her to be sometimes maddening and I imagine that she might have been a high maintenance friend- without her, we wouldn’t know anything about her extraordinary family. After all, she was the one who discovered Emily’s cache of poems and overrode both Emily’s furious indignity¬†and Anne’s reluctance to have the work published. She may have been stubborn (and maybe slightly overbearing to her younger sisters?), but she opened up the world of these three isolated women to the rest of us.

It’s because of this anniversary that I’m working my way through all of the Bronte material I can lay my hands on, as part of my self-set Bronte Challenge. I’m currently reading- and enjoying- Jane Eyre, a book I’ve never got on with before. This time, something has clicked, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because of Jane’s determination to make the best of her life, despite her shortcomings, or the fact that as a woman in my early 30s, I get the mindset that Charlotte herself felt as she wrote the novel aged 31. I used to despair at Jane’s repeated reiteration of her plainness, but having read about Charlotte’s preoccupation with her health (bordering on hypochondria at times, although with siblings perishing around her, not wholly unwarranted) shortness and her teeth, I get where that came from. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Jane Eyre when I was younger. Late to the party? Yes, I guess so. Most of my friends read the novel when they were younger. But I came to it with a more grown up view of the world and it worked for me.

So today, in honour of Miss Bronte, I’ll curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and my copy of Jane Eyre- and I’ll thank her for forcing her sisters to share their work with the world.

CharlotteBronte

 

 

The Bronte Project- the books

I’m a month into The Bronte Project- I’m currently reading Juliet Barker’s The Brontes, which Benn referred to as ‘a weighty tome’ (and it is- it’s 800 pages before you even get to the notes) and an edition of the stories Charlotte wrote, in conjunction with her brother, called Tales of Angria.

Tales of Angria - Penguin Classics (Paperback):

I thought I’d list the editions I’m using- although I have a couple of vintage editions of some of the non-fiction, which I’ve listed a newer version if you want to read along with me. None of these links are affiliates, by the way!

Novels-

Jane Eyre- Penguin Clothbound Edition

Wuthering Heights- Penguin Clothbound Edition

Agnes Grey- Wordsworth Classics-it’s really hard to find a pretty edition of Agnes Grey, which reminds me that Anne has an undeserved, neglected position in the Bronte legacy. It also reminded me of this comic by the brilliant Kate Beaton:

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- Penguin Clothbound Edition (I’ve pre-ordered this. Hurrah!)

Shirley- Penguin English Library

Villette-Penguin Clothbound Edition (my grandma has pre-ordered it for me for my birthday- it’s one of her favourite novels ever.)

The Professor-I have yet to buy a copy of this, so I’m not sure which edition I will end up buying (I’m allowed to break my book buying ban for the Bronte Project!)

Non-Fiction

This section may well expand as I discover new books, but at the moment I have on my bookshelves:

The Bronte Myth- Lucasta Miller

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte- Daphne du Maurier (I have an old edition- 1960s?- of this)

The Life of Charlotte Bronte- Mrs Gaskell¬†My edition of this is from 1905, so I will probably borrow another edition from the library; I can’t remember if the print is tiny in my book.

Charlotte Bronte- Claire Harman  This will be another book I get from the library.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means! However, it’s a good resource for anyone who might want to read along, or to dip in and out of Bronteana in a year which is important for Bronte readers and scholars (it’s the 200th anniversary of Charlotte’s birth.) Let me know if you have any thoughts, recommendations or if you’d like to read along with me!

Resolutions for 2016

Good morning, Sunshine- welcome to 2016!

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I’ve been thinking about resolutions. They have to be a) quite easy and b) quite quick to achieve some kind of result because I am essentially lazy and have the willpower of a small child. Also, I don’t believe in detoxes and all that jazz (despite owning books with titles like ‘I Quit Sugar’! Which is hilarious, as it ain’t ever gonna happen.)

Anyway, so I was thinking about what I wanted to achieve in terms of small, manageable goals and this is what I came up with:

  1. Declutter the house.¬†I’ve actually started this already, but it’s definitely an ongoing process, especially with a three year old. I’m going to try and be ruthless with books, clothes and other things- and I’ll be looking at D’s stuff to root anything out that he’s too big for. No doubt most of the stuff will go to charity shops, but as it is a rolling thing, I may do a few car boot sales and eBay auctions too.
  2. Go veggie for a month.¬†I’ve been vegetarian, on and off, since my teens. The reason I want to do this now is not so much a ‘post-Christmas detox’, but more about making me (and my family) a bit more adventurous when it comes to cooking vegetables. Benn is not keen on joining me in this, as he’s training for a marathon and is a massive carnivore. I, on the other hand, don’t eat that much meat, but I’m not varied in the vegetables I eat. Plus, this will give me an idea for what I’d like to grow in the garden this year. I’m open to this becoming a more permanent thing, but think that a month is a manageable start.
  3. Buying bans.¬†Ack, I hate this term, but I can’t think of another term. I’m going to stop buying books (which I’ve done before, with some success) and yarn. You can read about how I’m going to go about a book buying ban on my book blog, but in terms of my yarn buying ban, I have to use my stash as much as possible. I’ll talk about this in a future blogpost.

I think three resolutions is enough for now. I like to see the year as a work in progress and that resolutions are not set in stone. We’ll see how it goes.

What are your resolutions?

Finally- I’d like to wish you a happy, peaceful 2016.