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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Skeldale House is not the Tardis

We arrive at Skeldale House

It comes as a shock, to arrive in this rural English town, walk past the small shops along these seemingly ordinary streets, and suddenly find oneself before the real Skeldale House.  Now known as The World of James Herriot, this is the building that Sigfried Farnon purchased from an aging veterinarian; this the place James Herriot traveled to at Sigfried’s invitation.  For many years, it served not only as the men’s workplace, but also their home.  The community has lovingly preserved this brick building, and turned it into a museum dedicated to his life and work.  I have watched “All Creatures Great and Small,” the BBC TV show based upon his life.  I have read the exploits described in his books.  My appreciation of the man, his work, and the area of Yorkshire he fell in love with drew me to his real-life town of Thirsk.  Now I am finally here!

The plaque reads:
James Alfred Wight 1916-1995.
Veterinary Surgeon & Author of the James Herriot books
lived & worked here.
His stories & characters were portrayed in Film & Television as
All Creatures Great & Small.

In the TV show, “All Creatures Great and Small,” Skeldale House seems infinitely large.  Like the Tardis in “Doctor Who,” it seems full of an impossible number of rooms.  As Sigfried is a bachelor when James starts working for him, he keeps many of these rooms locked up.  When James and Helen marry, and she comes to live with them in Skeldale, Sigfried gradually opens up some of these previously unused rooms.  Yet in his books, Herriot also mentions that whenever Sigfried had someone coming to spend the night, rather than have their housekeeper Mrs. Hall clean out and prepare one of the rooms, Sigfried would leave his younger brother Tristan a note: “Cancel your plans, pack up, and go spend the night with Mother.” 

In the TV show, James, Sigfried and Tristan may all be
working in the same room.  This one...really?

The books and the TV show don’t lie: this is a big house.  It stands three stories tall.  Yet one thing that struck me was how small some of the rooms were, particularly the rooms in which the men worked.  Many of these rooms have a fireplace in them to keep them warm during the Winter.  Back in Holmfirth, one of our walks (not Ashley Jackson’s walk, but an exploration of our own) took us past a modern building site.  Along the side of that gently sloping hill, with a gorgeous view of the valley below, several houses were being built.  Unlike in Southern California, the exterior walls of these future homes consisted of two separate walls of masonry, with a thick space between for insulation.  I have little knowledge of house-building techniques in Britain, and how they have changed throughout time.  I’m not even sure how old Skeldale House is.  I wonder whether the house was built with one layer of bricks or two, and if they used anything for insulation back then.

As you can see, the men didn't invest in the small-animal
side of their practice like Granville Bennett did.

In the TV show, all the rooms seem huge, so capable of being used for a myriad of possibilities.  James and Helen’s new room, the little apartment on the third floor that Sigfried gives them after they marry, seems as large as my house.  Yet this is an area of Yorkshire where temperatures regularly fall below zero in the Winter.  So, in an era without modern room heaters, let alone central heating, it makes sense that each of the rooms would be small, and those that were not needed would be kept locked up and unused.  Still, I cannot imagine one man seeing a client and his animal in the first floor rooms devoted to their business.  They seem so tiny! 

There’s not even room to swing a cat!  Assuming, that is (for some obscure medical reason) they needed to do so. 

Thanks for following along,
Dragon Dave

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Paying Homage to the Brontes: Part 2

"Ah, such desolate country!"

We decided not to visit the Bronte museum.  At the equivalent of $15 US, it seemed too much to view a few rooms filled with period furnishing and clothing, examine old manuscripts, and not be allowed to take those memories back via photographs.  Perhaps, once I have read their writing, I shall return here and do so.  Haworth is a popular literary shrine, second only to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon.  To not read the works of these three sisters, when the Fiction they wrote draws so many here each year, seems so very, very wrong.

"Excuse me.  Do you think we could pass by?"

Then again, I’ve never read Shakespeare either.  Well, not much.  I really enjoyed Macbeth (Sorry, I mean, the Scottish play).  Of course, I could only appreciate that, at the time in which I read it, because my High School English teacher interpreted the text as the class read it together.  Hmm. I’ve kept my father's six volumes of Shakespeare.  Maybe I should aspire to read more of his work too.

Imagine the heather in bloom.

Even if you’re like me, and you haven’t actually read the Bronte sisters' works, Haworth seems a fine place to enjoy the day.  We strolled the cobblestone streets.  We purchased toffees in a candy shop.  We enjoyed steak pie and a Cornish pastry (or pasty?) in one of the restaurants.  We met others who had ventured there from America, England, and even Singapore.  Afterward, we left the village and walked the countryside, hoping to understand how the surrounding land inspired the sisters.  And before we left, we refreshed ourselves with a little ice cream.

Might I return one day?  Perhaps on a bus tour?

Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte.  While they remain a conundrum, I yearn to learn about their lives, appreciate the joys and hardships they endured, and discover the beauty in their Fiction.

Thanks for reading (whether you’ve read the Brontes or not),
Dragon Dave

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Paying Homage to the Brontes: Part 1

I tread the same cobblestones the Bronte sisters once trod.

The Bronte sisters represent something of a conundrum to me.  For while I have seen TV and movie adaptations of their work, I have never read their stories, novels, or poetry.  Yet watching an adaptation is not the same as reading the story that inspired it.  For even screenwriters and directors who endeavor to make their productions as true to the original works as possible cannot capture the magic that a writer creates when he or she puts pen to paper.  Viewing is not the same as reading: they are two entirely different ways of interacting with Fiction.  While I do not claim the superiority of one medium over the other, neither can I ignore how differently the two interact with my brain and resonate with my soul.

I find candy of more recent vintage.

I have also heard, from those closest to me, that for various reasons they have given up on reading the Bronte sisters’ novels.  While this seems a shame to me, it is only now, as the gray hair encroaches, that I feel truly prepared to read such classic works.  For decades, I have kept hardcover editions of the classics my father suggested I should read.  My family urged me, more than once, to get rid of them so I could make way for all the other books I’ve collected.  Yet, even if I knew I was not then ready to read them, I nonetheless yearned to do so.

A Final Resting Place.

Part of what drew me to Haworth was a desire to understand the magical spell these sisters have woven.  For their Fiction brings so many people here each year.  Walking through the city and surrounding countryside, I sought a foothold or handgrip: something that would help pull me into their worlds.  Perhaps this coming year will bring a concerted attempt to find the same truth and beauty in the Brontes’ works that I look for in all the stories I read. 

"Come in, come in, for the ultimate Bronte experience!"

Others are not so demanding as I.  In the Bronte Museum Gift Shop, I noticed numerous illustrated children’s editions of their stories, along with beautiful graphic novel adaptations.  While I smile at such offerings, and recognize that such items have their place, I held myself back.  For I want to experience Charlotte, Emily, and Anne's work first hand, to read their stories in their own words.

This blog entry will conclude with Paying Homage to the Brontes: Part 2.

Thanks for exploring with me,
Dragon Dave

Monday, May 28, 2012

Leaving Holmfirth is Hard to Do

Bill Owen's final resting place.

Our time in Holmfirth, while rich with meaning, rapidly drew to a close.  We had left so much undone.  The series depicted so many beautiful churches over the course of its thirty-seven year run, and we had wanted to see some of them.  We could have visited the church yard in which Bill Owen, who played Compo in the series, was buried.  We had planned to dine in the White Horse Inn, where Foggy, Norman, and Compo occasionally begin or end their adventures.  And of course, had we done more research, we could have found Norman Clegg’s house, and photographed it.

What one family has made of their life in Holmfirth.

“Last of the Summer Wine,” more than any other British comedy, epitomizes what drew me to England.  For the best comedy not only provides engaging characters, but allows them to grow and change.  While the number of episodes made each year tends to be small, one follows these characters over time: we celebrate their triumphs, we rue their failures.  The best of these shows, even if shot mostly in studio, also depict current life in Britain.  This style of living, so different from our own, drew us here.  Exploring Holmfirth has illuminated so many aspects of English life that tantalized us back in America.  So leaving Holmfirth is hard, because even though our journey in England will continue, our insights into this particular style of English living have drawn to a close.

Might Foggy convince Norman and Compo
 to ride their bicycles down this slope
and across these fields?

Another reason why leaving Holmfirth is hard is because the British don’t make sitcoms like they used to.  Those great shows shown on BBC and ITV, which once journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean, no longer reach American shores.  This is not to say that TV shows are no longer being made in England: of course they are.  But the style of humor, as well as the manner of production, has entirely changed.  I still enjoy watching the new dramas and mysteries made in England, but they don’t resonate in me the same way that the great comedies from the 1970s, 80s, and 90s do.  Why this should be, I do not know.  Late in his life, E.F. Benson, a prolific English author, purportedly said that of all the different types of stories, novels, and nonfiction books he had written, he felt that his lighter, comedic works spoke most clearly to the human condition.  So perhaps I am not alone in my sentiments.  For of all the works that E.F. Benson wrote, what he remains best known for are his “Mapp and Lucia” novels.

Time doesn't seem to exist here.

Time has a way of lulling one into complacency.  When first arriving at a particular stop in a journey, one thinks one has plenty of time for everything.  But regardless of how well one has scheduled and prioritized one’s adventures, suddenly realization strikes: Time has flown, and now one must leave.  Yet, while leaving a particular stop means the end of one journey, it also heralds the beginning of another.  While we remain saddened by what we have left behind, we hunger for what is yet to come.  I shall do my best to focus upon the joys we shall surely discover, as our footsteps lead us relentlessly onward.

Thanks for understanding,
Dragon Dave