Miss Eyre

The plastic bag I saw yesterday had moved. It was lying, at rest, on a bank of grass between the Little Angels Nursery and the gated house with the wind chimes. Puddles of rain, no doubt from the biblical downpour we had yesterday, filled its crevices. I noticed that La Taberna Tapas Bar and Spanish Restaurant has finally sold and that Jack’s Pie Shop, closed after the first lockdown is soon to be metamorphosed into a Bulgarian Restaurant. ‘OPENING SOON’ reads a sign in the window, felt-tipped in the what I can only suppose are the Bulgarian flag’s colours.

I forgotten so much of the detail of Jane Eyre, though I’ve read it several times. It’s lovely to have it read to me practically in full. She has left Gateshead for Lowood School. It takes me back to my own boarding school days. She was ten I was eleven. ‘The present was vague and strange…’ I remember that same feeling of powerlessness of having no choice but to yield to an institution’s unfamiliar ways and rites. I recall that same giving over of my body to be taken here and there by strange girls and teachers and house mistresses. I was wretched, though like her I didn’t really want to return home, I just wanted to have some autonomy, some right to make my own decisions and to be alone. I was never alone, nor was she. Sleeping, eating, dressing, washing, working was all done in the company of others. There was no escaping company. There was no space of my own. And eating too. Other people decided your appetite, what you must eat. You had no say. If you didn’t eat what you were given there was nothing else in its stead. I remember the echoey sounds of large dining rooms, of assembly halls and the dreaded swimming pool. And crying, and crying. There was also the new and strange tastes. I ate Alpen for the first time there, aping one of the teachers who swore by it and I’d watch her chew and chew. And English mustard, the only way to make the ropey ham we had for Sunday breakfast edible. And tapioca and shaving cream pie and spotted dick and the skin off the rice pudding. It was a surreal time for me, at least initially. I was cast adrift from all that I’d known and nothing was ever the same. It made me anxious, wary, watchful, diffident. I didn’t have Jane Eyre’s ‘passionate nature’, not then.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.