Visiting the Brontë sisters in Yorkshire

People say literary genius is a rare thing, something seen only once in a thousand or a million people. Maybe so, but the Brontës had three (and maybe five) literary geniuses in the same family.

From their father’s parsonage in Haworth, Yorkshire, in northern England, the three Brontë sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne produced some of the most popular books in the English language. Works like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are still read more than 150 years after they were published. They’ve survived the test of time. The ebook edition of Wuthering Heights is currently ranked number 457 at Amazon’s Kindle store, and number 5 in the fiction classics category. Their work has been made into numerous movies and another version of Jane Eyre is coming out next year.

The sisters also prompted literary tourism to Haworth. It started not long after they died and has steadily grown ever since. While everyone comes to Haworth to see the Brontë home and related sights, they also enjoy a beautiful and well-preserved nineteenth century village full of shops and fine restaurants.

Now I have to be honest here and admit that until I went on this trip I had never read a Brontë novel. They were the classics I never got assigned in school and I figured I’d get around to whenever. Before I left for Yorkshire I read Jane Eyre and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The rich prose and sedate pacing definitely belong to the nineteenth century, but the smartass, independent female protagonist belongs to the modern world.

Much of Haworth remains as the Brontës knew it. The Brontë Parsonage Museum preserves their home and tells their story. House museums are tricky to do well. Despite being a museum junkie, some historic homes bore me to death. This one, however, gripped my attention. Besides the usual stuff like the desks they wrote at and the sofas they sat on (and Emily may have died on), there are the little details that make it stick in your memory. In the nursery where they spent their childhood faint pencil drawings can be seen on the wall. While it’s impossible to say if these literary giants doodled these when they were small, it makes you wonder.

There’s also the story of Branwell Brontë. Who? Yeah, that was always his problem. He was their brother, a failed artist and struggling writer living in the shadow of his superstar sisters. He fell into a downward spiral of alcoholism and opium addiction before dying at 31. The above painting of his sisters is Branwell’s work. He originally included himself in the portrait, then unsuccessfully erased himself. He doodled constantly, illustrating letters he sent to friends. One at the museum shows himself in two images. The first is labeled “Paradise” shows him drunk off his ass and shouting, “I am the lord of the manor!” The other is labeled “Purgatory” and shows him hunched over an opium pipe.

%Gallery-104264%The museum also tells the story of their father Patrick, the local pastor who was also a published author. Many a young woman’s ambitions were crushed in those days by domineering fathers who wanted them to get married and get pregnant. Patrick Brontë was progressive enough not to feel threatened by his daughters’ talent and encouraged them in their careers.

Beyond the Brontë parsonage you can see traces of their life everywhere. Patrick Brontë’s church stands nearby and houses the family’s memorial chapel. The pub where Branwell got drunk is just a short stagger away from the apothecary where he bought his opium. The Black Bull Inn still serves up fine Yorkshire ales, but the apothecary shop stopped carrying opiates when they started requiring a prescription. Otherwise it’s a good replica of an early apothecary and still sells traditional cures.

Haworth’s main street is down a steep hill lined with little shops. You can find delicious local cheeses and preserves, a couple of fine tearooms, some excellent secondhand bookshops, and more gift shops than you can shake a copy of Wuthering Heights at. Several historic inns offer beers and beds. At the train station a traditional steam railway offers rides.

But Haworth isn’t all tea and scones and twee little shops. There’s a dark side to the town’s history, full of ghosts, death, and despair. On my second day I discovered I was all too close to the supernatural. . .

This is the first of my new series Exploring Yorkshire: ghosts, castles, and literature in England’s north.

Coming up next: Three nights in a haunted hotel room!

This trip was sponsored by
VisitEngland and Welcome to Yorkshire.

[Photo courtesy user Mr. Absurd via Wikimedia Commons]

United Airlines pilot pleads guilty to intoxication

Back in November, Tom wrote about a United Airlines pilot who was pulled from his flight minutes before take-off when his fellow crew members suspected he was drunk.

The pilot, Erwin Washington was scheduled to fly from London Heathrow to Chicago when the authorities asked him to take a breathalyzer test. He recorded 31mg/100, which is more than three times over the legal limit.

Because no replacement pilot was available, all 124 passengers had to be rebooked on other flights.

In a London court, Mr. Washington pleaded guilty to the incident, and will be sentenced next month. In similar cases, pilots are usually handed a fine or suspended sentence.

United Airlines has removed the pilot from service pending the investigation, but the guilty plea may spell the end of his career.

Could global warming solve Greenland’s problems?

Melting icecaps could turn Manhattan‘s streets and avenues into canals someday, but why focus on the negative? This could be a real perk for the 57,000 people who live in Greenland. For now, the Inuit are stuck hunting seals and freezing most of the year. As the permafrost recedes, though — thoroughly screwing up their environment — the locals are finding oil and mineral resources. So, the hunting trips are getting more dangerous, literally putting the Inuit on thin ice at times, but at least they can make some real cash!

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, more than 18 billion barrels of oil and natural gas can be found under the sea between Greenland and Canada, with another 31 billion barrels off the coast of Greenland itself. The same situation exists in the North Sea, and Norway hasn’t been shy about tapping into it to make a fortune.

For Greenland, which is at best quasi-independent from Denmark, finding some natural resources could help it sever the $680 million-a-year umbilical cord that connects it to the mother ship. But, we’re not there yet. So far, no oil has been found in the waters around Greenland, and the optimists don’t see that happening for at least another 10 years. It will take time to develop the infrastructure, but that’s only part of the problem.

Greenland still has to pierce the ice.

Eighty percent of Greenland is covered by a sheet of ice that can be up to 2 miles thick, effectively preventing oil and mineral exploration. This is where global warming comes into the equation. As we pump out our fossil fuels and change the climate, we’re helping Greenland melt that slick coat of ice and access its key to financial independence. Again, the heavily populated coastal cities of the United States may get screwed, but we’ll be able to access oil and minerals in Greenland.

In all seriousness, Greenland has struggled with economic growth. Mostly hunters and fishermen, they lack the skilled resources needed to kickstart just about any operation. Alcoa is thinking about building an aluminum smelter and two hydroelectric plants, but it would need to import construction workers from Europe or China, because Greenland lacks the appropriate labor. Engineers would have to come from other countries, as well.

Further, the small population is continually battered by a variety of social problems. It has the world’s highest suicide rate, according to the World Health Organization (100 per 100,000 residents). Residents over 15 years of age drink an average of 12 quarts of pure alcohol a year — a bar in Tasiilaq now sells only beer, since liquor was banned. The ban has helped, according to local officials.

Is global warming really the answer? That might be a stretch, but something has to give.

Cockpit Chronicles: “Flying Drunk” by Joe Balzer

Most people would question their career choice after working for five different airlines in their first six years as a pilot. But the early ’90s were a turbulent time in the industry, and I was simply happy to be working, even if it was as a flight engineer on the 727. Flying is what I wanted to do.

But a flight engineer doesn’t actually fly. This position, once reserved for experienced mechanics, was now populated with junior pilots working their way up the seniority ranks until they could hold a co-pilot or captain seat. I seemed to have had the unfortunate luck to be at my third airline working at that very junior flight engineer seat by 1996.

There I was, sitting in another indoctrination class, in a windowless room featuring six Office Depot particle board tables with twelve swivel-type desk chairs looking at a white dry erase board.

This time I would be learning about Kittyhawk Air Cargo; their rules, procedures, insurance benefits and hazardous material policies among other things.

If I had, even for a moment, felt that my career had been less than charmed up to this point, those thoughts would soon be eclipsed by a pilot sitting behind me and to my left. He was someone with a very well known past.

In the previous row I heard the typical banter of two new-hire pilots. The first pilot answered the most often asked question in this setting; where’d you come from?

It sounds rather direct, but there’s no better way to get to know a fellow aviator; their experience and maybe even if they’ve flown with someone you know.

My ears perked up when I heard my classmate mention he’d flown in Alaska, since I had spent the first 3 years of my career up there. I quickly realized from eavesdropping, that we’d flown in different parts of the state.

“How about you?” The Alaskan pilot asked his neighbor sitting to the left.

“Remember those Northwest pilots who were arrested for flying under the influence?” He said, as everyone in the class glanced toward him like the famous EF Hutton commercial where people stop talking and turn to listen to a far more interesting conversation.

“I was the flight engineer on that flight.”
It’s fair to say that no one has ever had a more turbulent career than Joe Balzer. But flying was what he too, had always wanted to do.

His career started at Delta as an aircraft cleaner while he flew at night as a right-seat pilot/freight loader aboard WWII vintage cargo planes out of Florida to the Bahamas. Later on, he worked as a Learjet pilot before landing his dream job at Eastern Air Lines.

Joe left for greener pastures at Northwest while Eastern began to collapse.

And on a winter’s night in Fargo, North Dakota, his career would also begin to crumble.

Since it was clear that our indoctrination class wouldn’t be starting until we heard Joe’s full story, the instructor agreed to let Joe speak in front of our class.

This wasn’t going to be your typical indoctrination class, I remember thinking.

Joe explained the circumstances that led up to a night of drinking on his long Fargo layover. While he and his co-pilot had given up on their captain and went to bed before the eight-hour “bottle-to-throttle” rule, the captain remained at the pub long afterwards. He made enough of a scene that a few patrons of the bar elected to call the FAA in an effort to prevent this captain’s flight from departing in the morning.

A representative of the FAA met up with the crew the next morning and asked them about the night before. Joe insisted on taking a breathalyzer test, but the inspector deemed that to be unnecessary.

But when they arrived in Minneapolis a few hours later, the state police were there to handcuff all three pilots at the gate and take them away.

It turns out, Joe and the co-pilot were just over the FAA’s legal limit of .04 blood alcohol level.

While we listened to Joe’s story, I couldn’t help notice that he didn’t blame anyone but himself and he remained amazingly positive and upbeat about his situation.

After turning down a plea-bargain (a mistake that cost him dearly) Joe lost all his licenses and ratings to fly and spent a year in a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. It was at this point that the story became edge-of-your-seat interesting.

Joe finished up his story, leaving his classmates and even the instructor in a stunned silence.

Later, I invited Joe to my place, where he relayed the experience in even more detail to my brother and me.

“Joe, you need to write a book.” I remember saying.

Apparently, over the next decade enough people said the same thing to Joe, that he’s done just that.

In July, Flying Drunk was released and I managed to get an early copy. It sat in my suitcase for a few days before I tackled it on a rainy London layover. I missed lunch. A few hundred pages later and I had missed dinner as well.

Joe chronicled his early career, which would be fascinating reading for anyone learning to fly today who hopes to become an airline pilot. Flying Drunk pulled me in like no other aviator autobiography.

For Kittyhawk and later American Airlines to give Joe another shot at a flying career after his horrible mistake in 1992, is a testimony to Joe and those at the subsequent interviews who listened to his story.

Cecil Ewell, the well respected and now retired Vice President of Fight Operations at American, says this about Joe:

“In 1998, a man came to my office looking for a job as a pilot for American Airlines. I had 50,000 applications for only 80 jobs per month. The story he told me nearly caused me to fall out of my chair. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In my 50-year aviation career, his hiring was my greatest success.”

I talked to Joe Balzer this week about the book and his flying career:

Kent: Joe, American took a bit of a publicity risk in hiring you 11 years ago. Have they been supportive of your efforts with this book today?

Joe: The men who hired me at American Airlines knew my hiring had potential for controversy, yet they felt like they were doing the right thing, by giving a man a chance that no other airline would give him. This is a company that is dedicated to helping people recover from alcoholism, saving families and pilots, and getting people back to work with the true potential that they have living sober lives. I struggled for so long to feel useful in the workplace, and writing this book has created the opportunity for me to give something back to all of the employees of American Airlines and the rest of the world.

Kent: There have been a few recent cases of pilots that were pulled off trips while passing through security after they were found to have been drinking prior a flight. Have you ever talked to any of these pilots?

Joe: I have spoken to several pilots who have gotten into trouble. It’s amazing how similar their feelings are to the ones I was having when my life fell apart. Most of these pilots really want to change their lives and get help. They want to surrender and learn about themselves and the disease of alcoholism, find support, get an education and become healthy and sober people.

Alcoholism is a very misunderstood disease, and denial and the negative social stigma do tremendous damage. My desire is to educate people about the disease, and perhaps raise the tragic bottom for someone so they don’t have to go through what I did before they seek help.

Kent: Do you think alcoholism is a widespread problem among airline employees? Should passengers be concerned?

Joe: Based on the letters I have received from other pilots and many conversations I have had, alcoholism is alive and well among every work group in this country, and to think it doesn’t affect pilots in today’s world would be pure denial of reality.

All airlines and companies with flight departments have people who are still suffering from alcoholism and need help, and thankfully, many companies have an employee assistance program to help people recover from this 100% fatal disease.

Over 4,000 pilots have been rehabilitated with the HIMS program, and every single pilot who is flying in recovery is enhancing air safety. Think about it, if just one pilot on the NWA crew in 1990 had been in recovery, the flight would have never left the gate.

Kent: What has been the reaction from the pilots you’re currently flying with?

Joe: The vast majority of pilots I have flown with or talked to have been very positive. Most pilots tell me that they admire my perseverance and are happy that American Airlines offered me the opportunity to fly again for a major airline.

Some amazing things have happened also. One pilot I spoke to on an airplane called me a few weeks after I met him and told me that “after hearing your story and talking to my wife, I decided to enter a treatment program for alcoholism.” When I heard that, I had a feeling of usefulness, that all of my pain and suffering was for the greater good and would help other people.

This pilot is a happy sober pilot today and is grateful for the positive change sobriety has made in his life. It’s easy to be locked into toxic shame and guilt, and in my story I explain how that was very dominating in my life. It kept me from wanting to get help.

Just yesterday I had a jumpseat rider who read my book on a four hour flight home. His comment to me was, “Every pilot in the industry needs to read this book.”

Kent: Had you taken the plea bargain which would have eliminated the felony charges, would you have been able to keep your licenses instead of having to go through, like you did, and earn them all back?

Joe: No, the FAA had already EMERGENCY REVOKED all of my pilot licenses–a very horrible experience to say the least. Obviously, my life had become unmanageable at that point in time, I had compromised my personal values by flying an airplane with too much alcohol is my system, and the locomotive had already crushed me. I was like a bug on the windshield of life, crushed and battered, but still somehow hanging on, just enough to get through the day. My flying days were gone, and a giant vacuum was whistling through my heart. That’s how much I enjoyed flying.

Kent: Are you aware of anyone else, besides the Northwest captain, who lost their licenses and earned them back again after a case like this?

Joe: There are many people flying today who have had to earn their licenses back in order to fly again. I think historically, we were the first ones who were ever charged with criminal charges for flying under the influence.

Kent: What has been the most rewarding thing about telling your story?

Joe: The things people say to me after they read the book are very uplifting. My life was super painful and difficult for a very long time. I suffered from post traumatic shock from being in prison for one. Then endured years of rejection from potential employers. I reflect on the wonderful people who were already in my life, my wife, family and friends, and all of the new people God put in my life who have supported me emotionally and spiritually over the years.

Joe’s book, Flying Drunk is available at book stores or directly from his website.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out Plane Answers.

Stupidity at its best – alcoholic falls down stairs- sues hotel for brain damage

Every now and then I run into an article that is so insane, it’s just too wacky to make up.

Such is the story of Michael Fenton. This self admitted alcoholic checked into the Marriott Marco Island resort and spa last January, apparently with the sole intention of getting plastered.

Two days into his debauchery, he walked out of the bar to make his way to the bathroom. Instead of relieving himself, he stumbled down a 100 foot staircase and now suffers from brain damage.

To most people, this would be an important wake up call – but not to Mr Fenton.

Instead of accepting responsibility for his actions, and be happy he survived the fall, he’s decided it would be much easier to blame the hotel, and sue them.

In his claim, he blames the hotel bartender for serving him, even though he was obviously intoxicated. He then goes on to claim the hotel staircase is a code violation.

The lawsuit seeks damages for injuries, pain, suffering, mental anguish, disfigurement, hospital expenses, medical and nursing care treatment, loss of earnings and loss of the ability to enjoy life. The damages were filed as being more than $15,000 (my guess is he’s asking for a couple of million).

I think he’s just lucky he was so drunk when he fell down those stairs, or he would have really injured himself. Keep your fingers crossed that he runs into a judge that gets this stupid case thrown out within 15 minutes, or this lunatic will be clogging the legal system for years.

(Via: Naples News)

Why are these the world’s weirdest hotels? Click the pictures to find out.