Sunday, 14 August 2016

Sylvia and Jennifer

During the May/June half term, we had a family holiday in North Devon.  We stayed in a very picturesque cottage within driving distance of Dartmoor.  One of the things I was most excited about was our close proximity to the unassuming and unremarkable village of North Tawton.

The reason?  It has a significant connection to two of my favourite ladies.  

Court Green, onetime home of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

Fumy, spirituous mists inhabit this place
Separated from my house by a row of headstones 
I simply cannot see where there is to get to

Sylvia Plath
The Moon & The Yew Tree

Ya know, I am not an academic or a wordsmith so I won't try to articulate how much Sylvia Plath's work has affected me, but seeing the context around this poem was pretty special.  Looking out over the church and the graveyard, the very surroundings she was in whilst writing 'Ariel' was quite something.

I was surprised to read that Ted Hughes lived in Court Green on and off for the rest of his life and was buried in St Peters Church.  I've also read that (until 2011 at least) his widow Carol apparantly still lives here.  Makes me wonder how she feels about people like me gawping at her home.  Plath pilgrims.  Never qute able to escape the ghost of Sylvia.

We wandered about the churchyard taking it all in

The other reason I was super-excited to be here was that North Tawton also doubled up for the fictional village of 'Clatterford' in one of my favourite ever shows, Jam & Jerusalem, penned by none other than Jennifer Saunders.

I can describe my love of Jennifer rather more assuredly.  Growing up in the 80's and 90's meant that she, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Ade Edmondson et al were everywhere.  They were writing and starring in the most influential shows of the time.  The kind of shows I could only ever watch when my parents' weren't about because they were deliciously naughty.  I am a massive fan of Ab Fab and although I'm not overly enthusiastic about seeing the movie, I will always watch and re-watch the original series as it is so funny and clever and mercilessly observed.

Jam & Jerusalem was one of Saunders' lesser known efforts.  It ran for 3 series between 2006 and 2009 and was enjoying a steady rise in viewing figures despite it's unfavourable timeslot before some tosspot at the BBC decided it should be shelved to make way for new projects.

It centered around a recently widowed community nurse Sal and the local Womens Guild she reluctantly joins to fill her time after the sudden death of her husband.  Not only was it artfully written, being warm and fuzzy and gentle while simultaneously dealing with grief, mental illness, loneliness and complex family dynamics with not a hint of mawkishness, it also had a stellar cast of middle aged female actors.  A group rarely portrayed in this day of insane youth fetishism.  Jennifer Saunders gave them all a platform and it was a joy.

Suffice to say I am a fan and it gave me immense pleasure to roam around and see the different spots used in the series, and then take silly photos in them.

Yes I am that person

Thank you for the formative influences ladies


  1. Looking good, lady! Who'd have thought that a tiny village in Devon would have not one but two claims to fame.? No wonder you were in your element.
    Court Green is beautiful even without the Plath/Hughes connection but yes, how must Carol feel about it all?
    With my hideous work schedule I don't think I watched any TV in the 1990s. I must be the only person on earth who hasn't ever seen Ab Fab or Friends! xxx

  2. What a lovely place. I'd love to have a little frolic in that graveyard.

  3. Of Jam and Jerusalem, I can recall it then it was, wait, what? gone? Thank you for sharing your lovely wee holiday in such a very, very special location. Oh if those walls could speak! xox

  4. "Ariel" and "The Bell Jar" were so strikingly influential in my life, I wish I could visit those places someday...


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