A visit to Haworth, home of the Brontës

At the beginning of February, I took a trip with a bookish friend so we could geek out over the home of the Brontë sisters in Haworth, Yorkshire. Charlotte, Emily and Anne were all intelligent and accomplished writers, who penned literature that is both descriptively local and incredibly universal in the presentation of human relationships. In preparation, I reread Wuthering Heights, the literary classic about how people with too much time and too little sense make each other miserable. Miserable to death.

When we arrived at Haworth, there was snow covering the hilltops. The first time I encountered weather cold enough to wear my winter coat, and I had left it at home. Foiled!

View from the parking lot at the Brontë parsonage. Snow covered hills in the distance.

Because I am a huge geek, we left to arrive when the museum opened. Be warned, fellow travelers, that while the museum opens at 10am, the washrooms are closed until 11! But the kind lady at admissions directed us to a nearby cafe, so we walked down a cobblestone street, found the toilet, then enjoyed coffee and pastries before getting back on track with our mission to immerse ourselves in literary wonder.


The parsonage

The parsonage where the Brontës lived has been lovingly and thoroughly restored to historical accuracy. The paints and wallpapers have all been matched based on records and scientific analysis. The collection of original furniture, papers, manuscripts and art is staggering; the care that has been taken to preserve and restore with as much precision as possible shows the devotion that the Brontës have inspired in their fans and followers.

The dining room would have been where the very industrious sisters undertook the majority of their writing, painting and handicrafts.
Charlotte Brontë’s writing desk

It was exciting to discover what accomplished artists the sisters were; although I knew they had been governesses and that requires some artistic skill, the drawing and painting on exhibit was really beautiful. Although their brother Branwell had a short-lived and not particularly successful career as a portrait artist, the displays show that the sisters were keen artists and Charlotte in particular had great skill. As children, the siblings used to create miniature books – and although the scale is hard to tell from this picture, they made these tiny manuscripts with incredible detail.


Because there are so many deeply personal artifacts – diaries, letters, clothes – you get a little bit of a sense of the character of the sisters. That they cared for each other deeply, that they were in turns both sensible and adventurous, that they were highly industrious, and that Charlotte at least had a sense of humour.IMG_20160203_121343383.jpg

Right outside the parsonage’s front door is a graveyard – a site that was actually the key source of pollution in Haworth village in the mid 1800s. So much of the atmosphere of the novels is explained by the constant proximity of death and these large tombstones – the trees were added later as a means of helping reduce the pollution. Many of the rooms from the parsonage, including Charlotte’s bedroom and the dining room, have windows that look out on the graveyard.IMG_20160203_123631651.jpgIMG_20160203_124009541.jpg

After our visit to the parsonage, we obviously needed a hearty meal. Luckily there is a pub down the road, the same pub that Branwell Brontë frequented.


We sat next to a roaring fire and enjoyed a hearty meal to brace us against the Yorkshire chill.


Well fortified, we walked through the village – which is really quaint and everything a tourist could ask for. The shops clearly embrace the Brontë heritage.


An inspiring and educational pilgrimage. I’m not the only one who thinks so…here is what Virginia Woolf thought of her trip to the Parsonage:



Spring?! Rambling…

Cleethorpes Seafront

We’ve had a beautiful sunny week here in Cleethorpes. I have lots of posts to write – I’ve been to Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, and Paris, home of all sorts of famous and infamous figures. Plus I have become guardian of two adorable guinea pigs, but have had to treat both for ringworm (I am now very proficient at getting piggies to take oral medication).

But for now here’s a picture of low tide. The daffodils are blossoming. The robins are singing. It feels like spring. Is it too early for the weather to last? Did the groundhog see his shadow? Does England even have groundhogs?

Also, if you’re local, go get the Canuck approved maple macchiato from Riverhead Coffee. Made with Canadian maple syrup drizzled on top. None of that fake “maple flavour” nonsense. Tastes like winter & home. (I know I keep raving about Riverhead Coffee. They don’t sponsor this blog. Not that I’d object if they wanted to…!)

Ah, I could go for some pancakes with bacon right now. Drenched in maple syrup. Pancakes. Not the crêpes that English people call pancakes. I mean, crêpes are great, but they aren’t the same thing at all, and are definitely not the vehicle for maple syrup delivery.

Thinking about how expensive syrup is here makes me think of all the other foods I took for granted in Canada that are much harder to find. Salsa in bulk quantities, for instance. Fresh guacamole. Pierogies and Polish sausage. Bulk rice of all varieties. Dried chickpeas. Frozen fruit. All things I am used to finding easily in even small grocery stores. There are a good selection of curry sauces and spices here, but they’re all mild. But kale is plentiful and cheap, and the cheese selection here is amazing. Goat cheese doesn’t cost a small fortune, either. And the bread isn’t as full of sugar and additives. Even the cheap loaves at the gas station are relatively sound ingredient-wise. Which is neat.

Though I still can’t get over how many things are labelled “One of your 5 a day” referring to servings of fruits and vegetables. The Canada Food Guide recommends 7-10 for an average adult. Not that any government is the perfect source for nutritional information, but it is interesting what different countries recommend to their population and why. I wonder if it has to do with post-war rationing in England? Or the later economic downturn when fresh produce might have been prohibitively expensive? All just guesses on my part, maybe I should do some looking into it.

This post is a little all over the place. Thanks for bearing with me, dear readers! As Tigger would say: TTFN!

Counting Concussion

  1. It was a Distillers concert at the Kool Haus. All ages – nothing was ever all ages. I was in grade 10 maybe, and I chose my clothes to look like I hadn’t thought about choosing my clothes. I had been in the mosh pit for half the show. A guy grabbed my shirt and pushed me – but the floor behind me had cleared so my head hit the concrete floor backed by his weight. The guy carried me out of the pit “do you need water or something? I am so sorry” “No, I’m fine” and I sat on the beer sticky floor until the venue cleared and I could find the friend I came with. We waited outside for her mom to pick us up and drive us home.
  2. Playing hockey with  I was rushing back to stop a breakaway. I caught her with a diving poke check. My momentum carried me head first into the zamboni doors which burst open.
  3. My first roller derby scrimmage. We were playing the team from Foothills. I  was jamming and a girl clotheslined me. She got a penalty. She apologized after the game. I thought I got up right away, only the pack had moved and everyone had taken a knee. When my coach asked me I didn’t know the date. I kept saying “I’m fine” even when no one asked me. I finished the scrimmage feeling high.
  4. #1 was actually probably from the whiplash I got in a minor car accident when I was in grade 6. I wore a neck brace. Our car had been rear ended on the highway. The police officer’s name was Kelly – I remember because she gave me a teddy bear that I named after her.
  5. I’m a bit lost on timeline now. July 2014 was a big one, one of the first to be diagnosed as a concussion by someone other than hindsight. My head hit the ground with the sound that still makes me flinch and hunch my shoulders, the sound I hear whenever I drive a car or lift weights or coach or go to a game or see photos on facebook: anything that reminds me of roller derby. The panic attacks are worse when I’m tired; before I quit my job I was coming home every day and crying for at least an hour before sleeping for 12. There was a flash of light behind my eyes and still I see it echo. This was in Fernie. I sat out the rest of the game and the only other thing I remember is a moment when the announcer – not knowing I was hurt, I assume now – made a comment about how rare concussions are in derby, you never see them – and I raged rage rage. How the fuck dare she?
  6. Was this before or after? At a game in Calgary I got a bad case of whiplash. The skater came at me the wrong way on the track – was this at Flat Track? No, it was against Regina in a friendly? I’m not sure. I didn’t finish the game, my neck hurt, my jaw hurt, I didn’t feel well. I was afraid to drive home so Mims drove me and Poppa brought my car. No. Mims drove me in my car and Poppa followed in their vehicle. Headache and neck ache and I followed up at work with Chiro and Athletic Therapy. I think that was the time when the AT suggested I go home from work. I felt giddy. I bought a new $300 helmet.
  7. Practice the week before Montana. In Red Deer, Friday night. Shannon the Cannon hit my visor so hard that the screws pulled out of my helmet. Totally by accident, but I was ditzy with hate: my own teammate. At a practice. Before a travel game. Shannon’s a powerhouse and I admire her for never holding back. Why does every hit feel like a hammer and why am I not strong enough to bounce back anymore? My get up and go is the best thing I got, and it’s gone. I didn’t even consider concussion until 2 days later. At work, a client/friend mentioned that I was acting concussed again. But I ignored it because I wanted to play in
  8. Montana. I was feeling edgy, powerful, agile, jittery. Coach told me I’d be jamming lots. In warmup I felt swift and dodgy. Frisky. I felt like someone else; someone better. I was scoring lots of points. We were smashing them. My head never even hit the ground: shoulder to left ear, punch to the right side of my head, the world lurched. The world lurched.

Edited to add:

Seeing the ‪#‎BellLetsTalk‬ posts prompted me to post a piece about my concussion – whatever I think about corporate sponsorship, real conversation about the different experiences of and around mental health is important. I still get anxiety attacks. I often feel depressed. Even as my other symptoms get better and better – I have only had to take an anti-headache pill once since Christmas, if I avoid noise triggers my body feels mostly normal – the mental and spiritual recovery is still in process. And even as I write that I grit my teeth and think it sounds like hypersensitive bullshit. Like: pull yourself together Claire, it’s been over a year. The feeling of failure is less constant than it was, but it’s still there, a gnarl of a knot I’m trying to unpick one thread at a time.

Something I haven’t talked about: I still dream in derby. Every night lately I’ve either been dreaming of playing or coaching, either at derby or at the gym, and it’s always a nightmare.

And facebook often makes me feel more isolated, because I feel very strongly that I want to seem happy so that my family doesn’t worry and so that I don’t seem like a whiner. But it means that my closest friends, who are so far away, also don’t know what’s going on, leaving me feeling more isolated than I’ve felt since the first month of my concussion.

Delicious English: “Bless”

One of the most common expressions around these parts is “bless” or “bless you”. Used in almost every conceivable situation to express anything from affection to annoyance.

For example:

The sympathy blessing
“I’m not feeling very well”
“Aww, bless. You’ve had that cough a week.”

The too cute blessing
Upon seeing a little kid in a bear hat on the bus:
“Bless him.”

The at least you tried blessing
“I worked really hard studying, and I still didn’t pass.”
“Bless you, you’ll get it next time.”

The sarcastic blessing
“Well he was out drinking last night, and he’s sick as a dog this morning, bless him. He does it to himself.”


The English (or maybe just the Northerners?) say bless the way Canadians say sorry: it expresses whatever you need it to say, and is completely understood in context.

I never realized how often I say “sorry” until I moved here, where people mostly just respond with a look and say “you’re alright.”

Interview on rob mclennan’s blog

rob mclennan interviewed me about my first book of poetry, Twin Tongues, for his 12 or 20 questions series. Thanks rob! Follow the link below to check it out!


rob’s blog contains lots of poetry news, reviews and interviews. Plus tons of good info about the small press/lit mag/Canadian writing scene.


I’ll take this opportunity for some awkward self-promotion, and mention that Invisible Publishing has a give one get one sale during December. So if you buy a copy of Twin Tongues, you’ll get the ebook free. If you’d like to take advantage of this twofer deal, head over to http://invisiblepublishing.com/product/twin-tongues/


Brigg Garden Centre

When I think Garden Centre, I think of a plant nursery. A place to visit in spring to get the garden ready for planting. Here in the UK, they are much more than that, not only in terms of offering other products like housewares and pet supplies, but also as a day out. Many have a play area for kids and a cafe or restaurant. Brigg Garden Centre has a huge Christmas display, so we went on a trip a few weeks ago to get into the festive spirit.

This cheerful looking fellow is set up just inside the entrance.

In fact, there is an entire floor dedicated to Christmas decorations and displays, with sections organized by themes like Country Christmas, Christmas Ballroom, Silver Elegance, and Christmas…Circus?

Country Christmas is very chic this year. I should have brought more plaid from home, where it’s less than half the price.
Father Christmas or Banff Hitchhiker: who can say?

It was fun seeing lots of weird and wacky Christmas ideas, like Christmas meets Phantom of the Opera.

Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you!
I’ll be Gnome for Christmas.
And of course, the traditional Christmas elephant acrobats.
This dancing tree looks like he’s ready to rumble.

And of course, lots of lights. Twinkling lights, strobe lights, neon lights…


After a delicious lunch – sorry, dinner – we explored the downstairs. There was more Christmas to be had, with an animatronic Christmas Caroling Polar Bear Band, and a train ride to take kids to visit Santa.

However, I particularly enjoyed the life size animal statues.

All the cute, none of the poop.

And a visit to Brigg wouldn’t be complete without seeing the massive gorilla.


Yes, Brigg Garden Centre definitely got me feeling especially Holiday Cheerful. It was a fun day out, and it gave us lots of decorating inspiration (such as homemade Felt Robins).

Happy Holidays!