Saturday, 22 November 2014

Do you believe in Santa Claus?

       Believe it or not, there are millions of people who don’t. Yet one 6-year old at our local primary school was almost lynched recently after telling her classmates there was no such person.  
       In the interests of inclusivity, the same school once tried to rename the seasonal celebrations as ‘Winterval’ only to meet with howls of disapproval from its nominally Christian parents. Despite their own pew-eschewing ways, they proved surprisingly touchy about this issue. 
       So what is Christmas and why do people feel obliged to re-mortgage their homes to celebrate it? Why do harassed Mums (sorry, but it’s usually Mums) spend hours preparing food that doesn’t get eaten and buying gifts that nobody wants?

      The early Christians refused to set aside a date marking Jesus’ birth” because they wanted “to divorce themselves from all pagan practices.” – The Christian Book of Why

       Some people (surprisingly not as many as you might think) point to the birth of Jesus - surely the world’s longest surviving infant, confined as he is to a cradle year after year. There’s just one small problem with that; Jesus wasn’t born on the 25th December, not by a long chalk. Bible scholars have been unable to find the date of his birth in any of the gospels; however, as Jesus was 33½ years old when he died, he must have been born around October/November, which makes sense, considering the shepherds were still living outdoors at the time.

      According to The Encyclopedia Americana, December 25th may have been chosen “to correspond to pagan festivals that took place around the time of the winter solstice, when the days began to lengthen, to celebrate the ‘rebirth of the sun’.” This also corresponds with the Roman Saturnalia (a festival to Saturn, the god of agriculture, and to the renewed power of the sun) and “some Christmas customs are thought to be rooted in this ancient pagan celebration.”

       The New Catholic Encyclopedia gives further information on the December solstice when, “as the sun began to return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun).”

       The so-called  ‘Star of Bethlehem’ which features so prominently in Nativity plays and on top of Christmas trees is mentioned in Matthew’s gospel account of the ‘three' wise men. Actually, the exact number of these visitors from the east is not known. What is known, however, is that they were astrologers and the ‘star’ did NOT lead them to Jesus as is often supposed, but to King Herod, alerting him to the Messiah’s birth with devastating consequences. Herod immediately ordered the deaths of all males born in Bethlehem during the previous 2 years.

       “When we give or receive Christmas gifts, and hang wreaths in our homes and churches, how many of us know that we are probably observing pagan customs?” -  The Externals of the Catholic Church

       Santa Claus has several alter egos. St Nicholas, Father Christmas, Knecht Ruprecht, the Magi, Jultomten (or Julenissen) the elf, and even a witch called La Befana have all been credited with bringing gifts to children. As none of these stories are true, does presenting them as such help children develop an appreciation for truth in later life?

         Christmas trees, mistletoe, yule logs, puddings and other seasonal accessories all have roots in pagan practices – either to protect against evil spirits or to encourage fertility, growth and general good fortune for the coming year.  Whether you embrace them or dispense with them is, of course, a matter of personal choice.

        But next time that annoying child at school insists there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, please don’t be too hard on them.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Fancy a cuppa?

Not often I can boast about my career but, according to researchers it seems that in at least one aspect of my working life I’ve actually done something right!

The key to success, apparently, is being happy and willing to brew up for your colleagues. There are of course die-hard curmudgeons who never offer to make cuppas for anyone else while a shocking 1 in 5 workers snatch a sneaky tea or coffee while nobody else is looking.

If revenge is your favourite tipple, you’ll be gratified to learn that such behaviour can actually cost the solitary tea-bag squisher the chance of promotion, whereas “the person who brews up for the work crew with a smile is often popular.” Quite right too!

Now, as proven by virtually everyone born in England (especially north of Watford), tea has always been THE beverage of choice…..Oh, we may flirt with coffee from time to time but when the heat’s on and that urgent email/payroll/data/proofcheck has to be processed, only tea will do. Ask most Brits the phrase they’d most like to hear and it won’t be “I love you” but “Fancy a cuppa?”  

Take my Dad, for instance. Years ago when interviewing for staff for his newly set-up accountancy practice he had two criteria: “Can you spell assessment and can you brew tea?” A Lancashire lad to the core!

Health benefits of tea

It’s thirst-quenching, refreshing and one of the few social pleasures we can still enjoy with a clear conscience and without damaging our health.

In fact, tea is very beneficial, providing antioxidants; protecting us against heart attacks, stroke and cancer; strengthening our bones; bolstering our immune systems and keeping us hydrated. OK, water’s better for you but it’s not the SAME!

Wise employers are well advised to have 2 vital ingredients in their kitchen  – a fast-boiling kettle and copious supplies of quality tea - none of your namby-pamby Earl Grey, mind. True aficionados prefer proper breakfast teas (Tetley, PG Tips, Brooke Bond to name a few) served in china mugs and strong enough to stand a spoon up in!

As for employees, you may be willing but are you ABLE to brew a decent cuppa? Be in no doubt, your future career may depend on it, so pay attention to the following instructions!

How to make a proper cuppa

Serious connoisseurs set great store by loose-leaf tea in china tea-pots. Forget that! From personal experience, the very best brew can only be achieved with a single tea bag per mug. Tea cups are fine but mugs hold more. However, too large a mug is not suitable as the tea will be cold before you finish it.

1.   As the kettle begins to boil, pour a small amount of hot water into your mug (or cup if you must!) This will prevent the tea cooling too quickly.

2.   Put in the tea bag (one per mug/cup)

3.   Make sure the water in the kettle is bubbling at its height when you add it to the mug/cup.

4.   Let it stand for approx. 30 seconds (too long and the tea will get ‘stewed’), then squish the tea bag with a spoon to the strength required.

5.   Remove the tea bag, add milk and sugar to taste and relax with the best cuppa ever!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Don’t let the penguins bags the sunbeds!

View from Bom Dia boat on tour of coast
      Going on holiday was my darling daughter’s idea. Portugal - being as far south as our budget could reach and most likely to offer sunshine in October - was mine.  This was to be our first trip abroad together in 10 years and the first time either of us had booked online. DD organised the flights, I did the accommodation – a rather swish 3-star self-catering complex on Meia Praia beach, Lagos.
       Then the phone calls began - 2 months of them - as DD’s obsession with the weather hit an all-time high!  “It’s only 19 degrees in Lagos today!” she complained.  “It’s 19 here in London and I’m freezing!” Later that day, she communed with a recent Lagos returnee who insisted the weather in October would be much, much warmer than anywhere in the UK. “After all, it IS on the equator, you know…..on the same latitude (longitude?) as Algiers.” No doubt Columbus could make more sense of that than me, but it seemed to set DD’s mind a rest for at least 4 hours. The next time she phoned, I was with another couple of chums who’d also been to Lagos and obligingly gave a glowing report of the Algarve climate. “Don’t worry, you’ll have a brilliant time!” said my friend Anne. “Never mind the weather! Get a few Strawberry Daiquiris down your neck and you won’t even notice!”
       Having consulted with her colleagues, flat-mates, friends, neighbours, unwary passers-by and the Daily Telegraph Travel page (Thank you, Daily Telegraph!) DD decided she was cool about it. “I don’t care what the weather’s like; I’m going to swim every single day!” she announced. “Okay,” I replied, “let’s hope the penguins don’t pinch the sunbeds!”
       At last, the morning arrived, me waking up at 2am. The journey went surprisingly smoothly, despite long waits between trains, and I met up with DD for the flight from Stansted. So far so good - until I realised, just before touchdown at 11.45pm at Faro airport, that I hadn’t verified the shuttle to our hotel. We were supposed to give the bus service 24 hours notice! “Oh no! I hope they’ll let us on the bus!”
       Phew! Another panic over! The driver DID let us on and 2 hours later we arrived at the Dom Pedro Meia Praia Beach Club where our crisply laundered twin beds awaited. It had been a whole day since I’d woken up in Derbyshire and that soft pillow was my universe. Unfortunately, my head had hardly touched it when DD flounced off to reception in her jim-jams. “Where’ve you been?” I asked on her return. ”To see if I could get my own apartment!” she said. “Your snoring’s keeping me awake!” Now whether she met a language barrier with the bemused young man on the night-desk or realised that she’d have to pay for it, I don’t know, but she failed to get the accommodation she wanted and settled instead for the balcony. Fortunately, the temperature was pleasantly warm and, of course, she had the stars for company!

View of Lagos - main quayside with colourful market stalls
       Awoke the next day to unending cobalt skies, wall-to-wall sunshine and temperatures of at least 30C.  A mere minute's walk and we were on the famous Meia Praia Beach – a wide, sweeping, truly breathtaking stretch of coastline with soft platinum sand. And, to DD’s delight, the sea was choppy with white-crested rollers crashing violently against the shore. Not easy for swimming, perhaps, but a very exciting way to exfoliate! A good sandblast does wonders for the complexion!  30 minutes of paddling along the shore and we were at Lagos Marina with its colourful yachts, cruisers, speedboats and, best of all, a replica of the Caravela Boa Esperança in which Bartolomeu Dias set sail for the Cape in 1488.

Caravela Boa Esperança
       In the town itself, there’s an ancient citadel from which I kept expecting El Cid to appear with a broom handle stuffed down the back of his Y-Fronts!

DD doing Grace Kelly bit on deck!
       The food was wonderful – lots of fish – in outdoor restaurants with friendly staff, and and lovely cafes in unexpected places, either on the small hidden coves along the coast, or, like our favourite, on a cliff with panoramic sea views. It was in Lagos DD swallowed her first oyster - a single mollusc on a plate of crushed ice and salady stuff - and where I drank my first Strawberry Daiquiri – perhaps not a good idea seeing as we had a tricky walk along the cliff-side to reach the sandy bays below. I didn’t like to tell DD that the height was making me dizzy, as she’d have blamed it on the rum – she’s already convinced I’m on the road to ruin, which on this occasion was probably true given the lack of handrails!
       In fact, DD has a thing about booze. During our 8 days in Lagos, I had no more than 4 glasses of wine, the single Daiquiri and, on our final night, a brandy to finish the meal. “Do you want one?” I asked her, “After all, you’re not in the Sally Ann.” 
       “No,” she replied, as I expected. Then, much to my horror, added, “I’ll have some of yours.”  
       “But you don’t like brandy!” I protested.  “And you’ve already had most of my Mateus Rosé and you didn’t like that much, either!”
       DD was adamant. “I’ll have some of your brandy in my coffee,” she said. The awkward Madam obviously wanted to curb my drinking - no doubt thinking she was saving me from a life on meths under a Manchester viaduct.
       “Are you sure you don't want one of your own?" I said, through tightly-clenched teeth.
       “No,” DD replied, pulling her Major Barbara face. “I might not like it.”
       Ah well - back to Blighty and a stiff G & T!
If you want a quiet holiday with lots of sun, sea and sand, Lagos is for you. Not much in the way of nightlife, although there are some lovely restaurants in the town and street entertainers in the square.

Water is almost as inviting as a Daiquiri!

Hope you enjoy the holiday snaps!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Daydreams - Adventures of the mind

       “Advantage Miss Brean. Championship Point.”
       The spectators hold their breath, waiting for the reigning Queen of Wimbledon to save herself from an unexpected and humiliating defeat. Surely, her 15-year old opponent, this wild card child with a devastating backhand volley, the perfect figure, flawless complexion and really beautiful hair, won’t be able to hold her nerve! Slowly, carefully, the older player tosses the ball into the air, draws back her arm, positions her racket and Wham! The ball zings across the court and skims over the net, spinning wide of the young girl opposite. Jacy reaches out, every sinew stretched towards the round yellow object and....
       “Jacy Brean! What’s the square root of 945?” Startled by this unwarranted intrusion, I find myself back in the classroom with an empty exercise book in front of me. Miss Sheehan is not amused. “Write out one hundred times, ‘I must not daydream during double maths!’”
       From as far back as I remember my life has been divided into three main states of consciousness. When I’m asleep, when I’m working and when I’m daydreaming. The first two activities together account for...oooh, 33 percent of my time. The rest of my time, if I’m honest, has been spent in a parallel universe.
       But I’m getting better. Motherhood, the need to earn a living and do the normal things of life – such as eating – have forced me to ‘get real’, a state of consciousness to which I used to be a total stranger but where, for the most part, I now reside. I’ve not stopped daydreaming completely, though. After all, daydreaming has its uses. While waiting in a queue at supermarket checkouts, I’m actually galloping across the desert on a beautiful Arab stallion; when confronted by a dull and over-talkative acquaintance, I’m mentally preparing for the next assault on Everest; and train journeys fly by when I’m auditioning for my latest West End play. Last time this happened, Judi Dench took so long over her soliloquy, she made me miss my stop!
       Daydreaming is such a wonderful way to escape the problems and tedium of day to day life, I’m surprised more people don’t indulge. But there you have it – the world is separated into practical people who concentrate on realities and actually achieve something, and people like me whose successes are merely imagined.
       People from all walks of life have imagination, of course, but daydreaming goes beyond the normal ability to envision situations. It puts the dreamer centre stage where he or she can actually feel the relevant emotions, as though living in a novel or film.  Such virtual experiences can help a person to develop empathy and to explore outcomes to real-life problems. And, according to a recent study by Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA*, people whose minds wander during tasks may be more intelligent, with greater ‘working memory’ which enables them to do two things at once.
       But there’s a downside. Spending most of one’s time on ‘another planet’ may prevent us from confronting issues in the here and now. It can distance us from others and result in an unrealistic, overblown view of ourselves and our abilities. Does every XFactor hopeful really have what it takes, or are they merely chasing the ‘dream’? Sadly, you only have to watch the initial auditions to see how few competitors possess the necessary talent – talent invariably honed by the finalists through years of sweat, tears and training.
       Lack of concentration can be embarrassing too. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve offended by chuckling after they’ve told me their dog/cat/grandmother’s died! It’s not that I’m heartless, mind – just that I lose track between setting sail for Fiji and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
       And, while daydreaming may seem harmless on the whole, much depends on their content. A craving for riches, for example, can lead to gambling, fraud or other dubious practices. Romantic fantasies may revolve around another person’s partner, resulting in broken hearts, homes and families. Or they may lead us to follow a glamorous but highly competitive career to which we may not even be suited.
       A few years ago, I asked a group of friends whether they daydreamed. All did. One girl had the very natural dream of marriage and children, the proverbial cottage with roses round the door. One (rather aggressive) young man imagined battling with a faceless opponent over a parking space – an incident that led to violence and a highly dramatic court case.
       During the discussions, my best friend, Lynda arrived and listened intently without adding any revelations of her own. But then, no one could imagine Linda daydreaming, she was far too down-to-earth. “Of course I do!” she exclaimed. “Really?” we asked, by now completely agog. “What about?” Linda’s eyes narrowed with concentration, as we awaited her pronouncement. Finally, she remembered her most cherished fantasy:   
       “Tax rebates.”

*Published in Psychological Science
See also:

Monday, 25 August 2014

Two new pantomimes - and an early start for 2016!

2014/15 Season

        It’s been a busy weekend. Up at the crack of dawn 3 days running to attend a convention and not getting home until late evening.  So with some relief I woke up this morning with absolutely nowhere to go and nothing to do – at least that was the idea. But you know what they say about best laid plans/mice and men/time and unforeseen and all that…..

       Bleary-eyed,I reached for my Hudl and was idly scanning down the timeline when I noticed the TWEET! Well, who else could it be? Having generously (and with great skill I might add!) RT’d Act One Productions’ latest (and, I must say, brilliantly designed new posters) I’d inadvertently invoked powerful forces, i.e. Jule, in the form of an uncompromising call to action.     “GET WRITING!”
       No preliminaries, no small talk, no theatrical lovey-speke. Just “GET WRITING!”
       “Okay Jule,” says I. “Why the urgency? You’ve got this year’s scripts for Aladdin & the Meanie Genie AND Cinderella – not to mention the extra mid-year script for Alice in Summerland! So what’s the hurry?”
       Jule merely mumbles something about marketing and how we have to get our act together well in advance. Too right! She’s got the POSTERS already!! Leaving retail advertisers at the starting post in the race for seasonal sales!
       “In case you haven’t noticed, Jule, we’re still in the middle of 2014,” I argue.  “This is a theatre company, not John Lewis!”
       “Yes, but, as I mentioned in my email – and DON’T pretend you didn’t get it! – we’re almost booked up for 2014 and now people are already asking about 2015.”
       This is a fair point. Since Act One Productions was formed 5 years ago, demand has increased along with the company’s reputation.  Some of the pantomimes, both short and full-length versions, have proved so popular, they’re going out on tour again next year alongside new productions - not just over Christmas but also other times of the year.*
       “So you see, I hardly have time to turn round for the next 12 months, which means the groundwork has to start now.” By groundwork, Jule’s referring to the scripts on which everything else is based – costumes, scenery, lighting, music, sound and, of course, casting. Looks like I’m going to be busy this autumn!
       “Okay then,” I concede, “So that’s Puss in Boots for the short panto, Jack and the Grumpy Giant for the longer family panto, and Red Riding Hood for the summer show. Will any humans be in the casts next year?” I ask.
       “Whatever do you mean?” replies Jule, and I can almost hear her long eyelashes fluttering with injured surpise.
        “Don't play the innocent with me,Madame! Let’s face it, Jule, you’re not exactly adverse to sticking the odd donkey in here and there. Or elephant. Or duck… Goodness knows what creatures you’re planning to include this time! In fact, it’s not a theatre you need, it’s another Noah’s Ark!”
       “Now THERE’s a thought!” cries Jule. “What are your plans for 2016?”

2015/16 Season

*For performance schedule, check out the website:

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

How to cope with STRESS

1 in 5 British workers physically ill; 1 in 4 reduced to tears in the workplace; unprecedented demand for anti-depressants…..All due to stress.

Yet, stress is not always a bad thing.  The American Psychological Association states that “Stress can be the kiss of death or the spice of life,” depending on how we manage it.

Imagine watching an adventure movie, say Indiana Jones or Fast and Furious. Or riding a rollercoaster.  When things get really exciting, the body’s emergency response system kicks in, making you breathe faster, increasing your blood pressure and heart rate, and really getting the adrenalin pumping as extra glucose and blood cells rush to the rescue.  Once the situation that triggered this response has passed, the body should return to normal.  But if the stress factor continues, the same mechanism can cause intense anxiety.

Much of today’s stress, of course, is far from pleasant, but how we handle it can make all the difference to our overall mental and physical health.  Tobacco, excessive alcohol, overeating or ‘vegging out’ in front of a TV or computer screen will only make things worse.

According to the National Institutes of Health in the US: “The best start to relieving stress is…..a well-balanced, healthy diet as well as getting enough sleep and exercise.  Also, limit caffeine and alcohol intake and don’t use nicotine, cocaine or other street drugs.” Other suggestions are regular breaks, hobbies and spending time with friends and family.

Naturally, different types of stress require different methods of coping:

Overstretched schedule

For some people, it’s hard to juggle work and family commitments, especially when there are children and elderly parents to consider.  But, no matter how packed your schedule, it’s important to find time to relax – otherwise you’re unlikely to help anyone, least of all yourself.  Prioritise, make sure you get enough sleep, and set aside much needed ’me time’.  If your current schedule won’t allow you to, maybe you should simplify your life. Do you really need that top-of-the-range car? The dream kitchen? Or a designer wardrobe?  So many people wear themselves out by chasing after ‘things’ which can never make you happy.  Try to be satisfied with the quality of life rather than the amount of stuff you can acquire!


In recession, job security and fears for the future may hang heavily. People with consistent support from family or friends are less affected by stress-related disorders, so being able to confide in someone close is a real protection. On top of personal anxiety about the future, the news is full of worrying events. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, violent crime, accidents and illness are on every news item, which doesn’t make them any easier to cope with.

Yes, there are plenty of worries to keep you awake at night - if you let them! Try to avoid negative thinking – those ‘what if?’ disasters rarely happen and will only drag you downwards if you dwell on them. Just take one day at a time, deal with every problem as it arises and, if you’re a believer, pray about it. 

Troubled relationships

Spending 8 or more hours a day with a difficult boss or colleague is bound to get you down. Should they annoy or offend you, it can be hard to keep your tongue in check. But do try. Whereas a snide comment or angry response from you can make the situation 100 times worse, time and time again mildness has proved more powerful than rage, keeping tensions at bay and even softening the other person’s attitude.

If someone ‘has words’ with you, perhaps criticising you unfairly (at least in your view) try to keep the argument private, settling things with dignity and respect. You may believe you’re in the right, but it helps to see the problem from the other person’s angle and you may come to see their grievance is valid. Even if they’re completely in the wrong, be forgiving. People who bear grudges often have an increased heart rate and high blood pressure, while letting go of any resentment will lower stress levels.

There’s no doubt, every human on the planet suffers some form of stress. You may not be able to remove the causes; what you CAN do is to deflect your own anxiety by helping others, by reaching out in some way. Giving to others is one of the fastest routes to happiness and peace of mind – the perfect antidote to stressful,and even traumatic, conditions.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Hiking round Hathersage - with Charlotte Brontë & Little John

The limousines set off, engines purring, up the road, past the smoking woodland, and out into open country. Joe gazed out of the window as they climbed steadily upwards onto the moors, which were particularly beautiful at this time of year, with the heather coming into bud and the sun casting a golden glow onto the peaks.
As they continued the journey however, the landscape grew bleak and blackened by peat, a desolate scene relieved only by coarse scrubby tufts of lifeless reeds and bracken. And if this were not enough to make Joe's heart sink, then the sight awaiting him would send it plunging into his trainers. – Extract from The Runaway Children Vol 1 – Flight from the Nunjas.

As this passage from The Runaway Children trilogy suggests, Derbyshire High Peak is an area of contrasts:  From lush, leafy forests and verdant valleys to miles of rugged moorland and jagged rocky outcrops. In fact, the area where I live is one of the most popular places for tourists in the world! No wonder that, on her regular visits home, my ozone-depleted, London-based daughter insists on at least one lung-challenging walk every day.
Which means consulting the Green Book, a guide to local footpaths by a husband and wife rambling team.  (I’d give you the title but unfortunately, it’s disappeared, much to my darling daughter’s disgust. We try consulting an Ordnance Survey map instead but, like Captain Catastrophe, a character from the 2nd book in my trilogy, can make neither head nor tail of it!). So we decide to re-visit a favourite walk in Hathersage, a few miles from my home. Like so many quaint Derbyshire villages these days, free parking isn’t easy to find, but there’s a generouslysized car park not too far from the village centre.
“Why are you wearing those stupid sandals? Haven’t you brought your walking boots?” asks my darling daughter (DD for short). I explain that I have indeed brought my walking boots but have forgotten to bring any socks and, as the fields are dry and relatively flat, I can’t foresee any problems, despite the rather high wedged heels I’m wearing. “And anyway,” I add, “you haven’t exactly dressed for a hike yourself in those flimsy trainers.” DD merely shrugs and links my arm. I sigh with relief. First objection tackled, argued and put to bed. (And we’re still talking.)
Having reached the village, we make our way past allotments and a small cricket ground until the path leads us into open fields. “Oh look!” says DD pointing to a tree stump halfway through the second field. “Someone’s lost their glasses!” Now this is what I like about Derbyshire folk; someone has very thoughtfully placed the spectacles on the stump in such a way they can be easily seen - so if the owner is reading this and wants to retrieve them, I’d bet my life on them still being there!

DD is now in full stride, racing ahead of me. The view is breathtaking, so I ask DD to turnaround while I take a photograph of her against the tree-lined hills. “I don’t like having my photo taken,” she replies, going all Diva-ish on me, so most of my shots are of her disappearing rear. She does, however, oblige me with her profile as she stops to chat with a newly-sheared sheep. “I wonder if she’ll let me pet her,” muses DD.

DD & Sheep
 Now, Derbyshire sheep are an unusual breed, not easily alarmed and rather bold when it comes to cadging food from unsuspecting picnickers. They are also rather stubborn and this particular sheep is no exception to the rule. Having settled herself onto a comfy patch of grass, she’s reluctant to give ground, even when DD leans towards her. It isn’t until DD’s hand comes in for the pat that the animal decides to budge - just in time to avoid contact.
Another photo. “Oh Mum, do stop it!” sighs DD, turning her back on me yet again. “You only want pictures for your stupid blog!”

North Lees Hall, front view
After a mile or so we reach our first place of interest: North Lees Hall. This imposing Elizabethan manor was once home to the Eyre family and is thought to have inspired the fictitious Thornfield Hall where Mr Rochester wooed ‘Jane Eyre’ and where his mad wife jumped from the turreted tower. Apparently, author Charlotte Brontë stayed in Hathersage (her model for ‘Norton’) in 1845 with her friend Ellen Nussey, the vicar’s sister.

North Lees Hall, rear view
“It’s very small, isn’t it?” muses DD but I’m too busy taking photographs again. I particularly like the clog-worn steps leading up from the back of the hall to an ancient footpath which I’m certain Charlotte will have trod, and the views beyond are spectacular.

Stone steps behind North Lees Hall
View of crags from North Lees Hall
“Oh come on, Mum!” DD is now decidedly grumpy, so I put my phone/camera away and we look for a way back to the village via the parish church. We amble towards a path which seems vaguely to go in the right direction. Just as we reach the style, a lady appears, walking her dog.
“Will this take us to the church?” I ask.
“All paths lead to the church,” the lady replies, adding: “In the old days, there had to be a way for every farm to carry their coffins for burial.” Here follows a pleasant discussion about Hathersage and its various features, including a dam, the rock pools along the top of the crag, Robin Hood's cave and a swimming pool. “Only it’s closed today for cleaning,” says our new friend. Due to hot sunshine the previous day, a large number of families had cooled off in the pool, but only after smothering themselves with sun-cream: “Which made the water extremely greasy, I can tell you!” (Not to mention all the other unmentionable substances which may have been lurking – but let’s not dwell on that!)
View of Hathersage
Minutes later, DD and I are walking through fields towards the parish church and by this time my feet are starting to hurt a lot. DD has already removed her trainers to walk unfettered through the luxurious grass, so I decided to follow suit - only the grass isn’t that pleasant. It’s soggy and spattered with sheep droppings. “Don’t think this is such a good idea,” I say. “People can catch Lyme Disease from sheep, you know” “Oh Mum, you’re so negative!” “But it’s true!” I insist, “and if anyone’s allergic to ticks or spiders in the grass, it’s you!”
“Spiders!?” DD squeals and starts dancing on the spot like a cat on a kiln, toes curling with horror. “Better get your trainers on, Quick!” I yell, secretly enjoying her discombobulation, as she struggles to put on her trainers and keep both feet off the ground. Somehow, she manages to re-shoe herself and we both continue.
“Oh,” says DD. “Tourists!” Sure enough, a few yards further down the field is a party of Chinese teenagers who have stopped to ask the way from an elderly gentleman sitting by the fence eating sandwiches. He tells them how to get to their destination at which they promptly set off in the opposite direction. “Hoi,” he cries, pointing his finger, “That way!” This the youngsters understood and set off on the right track.
“Lovely day, isn’t it?” says the elderly man, cheerily. “My missus has gone to Wimbledon, so I’m having a picnic and a nice long walk.” Actually, I feel a bit sorry for him, even when he tells me his wife has made his lunch before setting off for the London train, but he seems happy enough and willing to pass the time of day – much to DD’s annoyance. She’s walked on a bit and is now gesticulating, grimacing and beckoning me furiously from behind a hedge.
“Why were you talking to that man?” she demands, “We’re SUPPOSED to be on a walk!”
“Just being friendly,” I explain. “Can’t cut people dead mid-sentence, can I?”
“But you were sooooo loooooong!”
In answer, I get my phone out again and start taking photographs. DD harrumphs, not for the first time, and stomps off ahead of me. Honestly, I do TRY to catch up but am beginning to feel rather tired. Left to my own devices, I’d be having a nap by now.

“Here we are then! St Michael’s & All Angel’s Church.”
Though mostly built in Tudor times, the structure of this impressive parish church actually began in 1381, and there have been other churches on this site since the 12th century.
The graveyard is thought to house Little John, allegedly a Hathersage man. Whether or not this IS the burial place of Robin Hood’s legendary side-kick is open to dispute, yet whoever lies beneath the Yew Tree before the church’s main entrance is certainly very tall; when opened in 1782, the grave contained a male skeleton measuring 7ft. (Our dog walking friend reckons it was over 8ft judging by one of the thigh bones!) Little John’s neighbours include Robert Eyre, a veteran from the battle of Agincourt whose descendants built the church extension along with North Lees Hall.

By this time, my feet are really hurting and I’m looking forward to tea and cake at Cintra’s in the village. This lovely café doesn’t disappoint – in the garden behind the café, we order moist lemon cake, a delicious toasted sandwich and a generous pot of steaming tea from the very pleasant owner and staff! Bliss!

Cintra's Tea Rooms, Hathersage