Wife in the North – a review

Taken a break from reading the orange literature winners for 2011 as the last two I have to read are in hardback so going to wait till they are out in paperback.  Have plenty of other books to read having had a book buying frenzy since we booked our summer holiday.  So that even if the weather is wet, wild and stormy in Kintyre I can curl up and read for two weeks.  One of the books I bought is one I have wanted to read for some time – Wife in the North by Judith O’Reilly.  I was interested in the book as it was printed as a publisher had been following Judith’s blog about her adventures in rural Northumbria and I was keen to see how a blog becomes a book.  Judith’s blog is http://www.wifeinthenorth.com/

I have read the book in a week which is very good going considering it’s been a very busy week.  I have really enjoyed it and could relate to much of what she was saying and of her life.

She basically is a London girl at heart who moves to Northumbria because her husband is in love with the area despite the fact that he commutes to London leaving her up North.  Through out the book she is torn between her love for London and her new life in rural Northumbria.

I couldn’t relate to her love for London.  I like London and I am happy with the occasional trip there but I would hate to live there.  I too am city born and if asked will always proudly say I am from Glasgow.  And I love being in Glasgow and to this day my heart beats a little faster when I am first back in wegie land.  But as much as I love visiting I would not like to live there again nor would I like to live in Edinburgh again where I spent 13 years.  However I could relate to her position of not living where you want to be and being pulled back to a different location.  After we were first married we lived for the first 7 years in a top floor flat in Morningside in Edinburgh.  I loved that flat with a passion and the area in equal measure.  However we had out grown it and we moved just a few miles away to Craiglockhart to our first ever grown up house.  I confess I hated the house and the area with just about the same passion that I had loved our flat in Comiston Road and Morningside.  I  took every opportunity to return to Morningside and my old haunts away from the suburbia I now lived in.  I confess it came at a time I was at a crossroads of life anyway.  Having spent my 20’s wanting only my career my maternal clock was starting to kick and yet I had just landed a great marketing job down in the Scottish Borders.  I had finished my night classes to achieve my marketing degree but this coincided with my husband starting to  study for a  post law degree and I was also very lonely in our Craiglockhart suburbia.  As nice as the neighbours were they freaked me out with their continued watching of our lives I think they knew our daily patterns of each others lives better than we knew did.  To the extreme letting me know when I had got up at 6am for a shower.  Not a bath the house didn’t have one another huge drawback for me.  I would wake up each day and wonder if this was it for the rest of my life suburbia and did I really want to bring up a child here?  Answer no cause I didn’t want to live there myself.  The lure of Morningside was though replaced by the greater lure of the Borders.  I have always wanted to live in the countryside and working in it and then travelling back to deepest suburbia made no sense to me.  I have written about this in the blog before but basically we both fell in love with St Boswells when we came to celebrate the millennium.  It took hold of both of our souls and it hasn’t let go since.  Neither has the house where we now live.  I knew instantly that this was the place I wanted to have a family and the house knew too it chose us.  Another point Judith makes about houses having feelings I feel that.  I know when we come back from holiday the house has missed us or if the kids are away it is that bit more subdued as if it too knows the heart of our home has gone.  So I could relate to feeling I lived in the wrong place.  Though Judith obviously now loves where she lives.  I never grew to love Craiglockhart but it was an important stepping stone in my life about what I did and didn’t want.

Like me she had kids later in life and working for the BBC and the Times had a rewarding career.  Her tales of motherhood made me laugh.  Of feeling the bad mum as she wasn’t creative with art and crafts.  Of coming home to find the children had painted the table pink and the floor while her husband was trying to put the baby to bed.  Asking one child who they loved best in the world wanting it to be her only to be told she loved her Grannie best.  Been there got the t-shirt on that one.  Of feeling she should be clutter free but living in total clutter and chaos.  Feelings of anger and despair when her son is bullied at school and her joy when it is sorted out.  Of cherishing every moment she can and putting it in a picture bank of memories in her mind.  One thing that is very poignant in the book is her talking of the still birth of her first son and of her sadness each year the day dawns that would have been his birthday.  A child who for her always walks along beaches of Northumbria with them.  Of her friendship with another mother whose first child died when he was just a child.  Things we throw out paper wrappings in a child’s jacket which move from rubbish to very special memories as that child ate from that.  I could relate to that again I have said before my sister’s best friend died when she was 8 and I have never ever forgotten her or the pain that her parents went through and how brave they were just to breathe again and live again after that.

There are funny parts of the book too like the comments on country fashion and the way she gets all the gear for the hunt.  It has a certain image in your mind.  There is a certain fashion in the country among some sections of rural life.  I could relate to her descriptions of corduroy trousers though admit I have never gone there.  My fashion these days is very much my own though far more relaxed and casual than my city days.  Though confess in deepest winter my 24/7 desire to live in pyjamas was not a good one.  Yes I walked the dog in them in the height of the snow and even picked up the turkey in them.  It was too cold to change I just couldn’t bear the thought of it. 

Her accounts of the weather were also something I could relate to particularly now when Southern England is basking in sun and we are being torn apart by gales and rain and freezing conditions for this time of year.  Boden is having a winter preview just now you get 20% off and delivery nearer to autumn.  Usually I look at this offer (yes I buy) but I do think why are they wanting me to buy winter clothes now when it’s summer?  This year the preview hit me on thursday which was another  dreak day again.  I thought fantastic how quickly can Boden deliver and warm me up.

It is colder up North and sometimes I would like to be in warmer climes especially when it’s grey and wet.  But yet like Judith I love this part of the world and the greenness comes with having so much rain.  It’s not crowded has a magnificent coastline with beaches that are deserted. The fantastic River Tweed and friendly people who go out of their way to welcome you.  We are on the other side of the border but as Alistair Moffat has pointed out rural Northumbria and the Scottish Borders historically were one and the same.  Reading about her life I could relate to her setting as it mirrored mine.

But overall I loved the book as I could relate to many aspects. She was very, very honest and I liked that.  Particularly as I settled down for my bath last night.  My husband home early for once was in the bath when we came in from feeding the pigs.  Both children said Dad is in the bath Mum leave him alone.  We did.  Half an hour later I ventured to the bathroom to have a bath and finish Wife in the North.  Two seconds later my son arrived in the bathroom and desperately needed the loo.  He was followed by my daughter demanding to know when tea was quickly followed by the dog who decided he might as well join the party in the bathroom.  I didn’t finish the book had to get up early to do so today but I did think Judith would have related to that tale as I related to her’s.  Wife in the North I can recommend it.

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About fionadranesblog

40 plus mum of two married with a mad cocker spaniel. Along with two colleagues run Bright Light Marketing a rural marketing agency who specialise in getting rural businesss noticed. www.brightlightmarketing.co.uk. Live in St Boswells in the wonderful Scottish Borders. Love books, walking and living life to the full here in the Scottish Borders though its sometimes a juggle!
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