A COPY-cat calendar which was inspired by the Calendar Girls has raised $11,000 for charities in Mexico.

Californian Chuck Smith and his English wife, Jacqueline, visited Rylstone and District WI late last year to meet some of the ‘girls’ who starred in the world-famous calendar 20 years ago and to show them a calendar they put together in 2018.

“Because of that Yorkshire calendar, my wife Jacqueline and I have a special place in our hearts for the Rylstone and District chapter of Women’s Institutes,” Chuck told the Herald.

“We greatly admire the courage and hard work that the 11 women from Cracoe and surrounding villages, who created and modelled for the calendar, put into their project. When one visits that peaceful and bucolic area, it is hard to picture that such a world-changing event took root there.

“While my wife had long known of this federation of over 6,000 chapters and 200,000 members, I first began to grasp what it was all about in 2012 when I saw the movie Calendar Girls, starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters.

“Little did I suspect, simply from watching that movie, that I would later develop a powerful desire to meet the ladies of Rylstone, and to sit in on a WI meeting.

“I am so pleased and honoured that those two wishes recently became realized.

“To the folks in Yorkshire, they are just your neighbours. But to me they mean so much more.”

Chuck said that while living in California in the USA they often spent holidays in Baja California, Mexico, just south of San Diego, and it was not long after moving there to live that the subject of the Calendar Girls’ calendar was raised again.

“We liked the area, knew it was affordable, and figured living there could allow us to regroup. To raise the money we estimated we would need to make the move we held four consecutive weekend yard sales in our community of Tehachapi, California, and sold virtually everything we owned. After five trips to Mexico looking for a suitable rental - one that would accept our ten cats and three dogs, all rescue - we found a place. We settled in with a grand total of $150 left to our names. Rosarito Beach, Mexico, became our new hometown.

“It was near the end of our first year in Baja that we saw the Calendar Girls movie. While watching the film my mind drifted, and I found myself visualising older women we had met since arriving in Baja. The ladies of Rylstone reminded me of these women, and on that basis a thought occurred to me.

“I paused the film and suggested to Jacqueline that perhaps we could produce a similar calendar to the one in the movie. The women I pictured were retired and likely to be over sixty. That raised the possibility of featuring even older women than those in the original calendar. Maybe doing something like that could help us get back on our feet. I resumed the movie, and that fleeting, silly thought was soon forgotten.”

He said that it was several weeks later while at a party that someone produced a copy of the original calendar and it spurred him on to produce his own ‘alternative calendar’.

With a borrowed camera and a growing number of willing models, Chuck and Jacqueline, with Chuck behind the lens, learning as he went along, produced eight calendars over five years, featuring 91 women with an average age of 69.

“They posed for our version of the calendar for a variety of reasons. Some thought it would be fun; for others it was more serious, as it completed a cycle of healing. Several of them had cried on my shoulder when explaining abusive violations of their person; things they were powerless to prevent.

“Through my rapidly developed grasp of photography, and Jacqueline’s and my empathy, we soon realised that we provided women a way to exert control over their bodies.

“Thanks really belong to the 11 ladies of Rylstone. I’ve read Tricia Stewart’s book several times, and we had the honour to meet six of these incredible women.

“We are excited to learn that there may be another calendar coming from the ladies of Rylstone. Although it will not comprise all 11 of the original models, we encourage Angela, Tricia, Beryl, Lynda, Christine and Ros to definitely bring out the ‘New and Improved’ alternative calendar, if for no other reason than it would mean another trip for Jacqueline and me to visit Yorkshire.”

Chuck takes comfort in knowing a number of their models were helped, as well as many fans of the project, and that over $11,000 was raised through calendar sales for charities in the northern Baja area. They hope more healing and raised funds will come with the release of their books. For details, email GorgeousWomenofBaja@gmail.com.