Just how grim can it get up north? (Actually, it's quite nice.) One woman's not-so-lonely journey into the Northern heartlands.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Apocalyptic horsemen and friends
Life in London was simpler in many ways. Cafes knew how to make a decent skinny latte with an extra shot, muddy wellies weren't de rigeur and most importantly I had friends. Quite a few of them. Often in the media and certainly in work. Those who had children, juggled their responsibilities, adjusted their career expectations and got on with it. Those who didn't, tried not to talk too much about the exotic holidays and how long they spent in bed on a Sunday. I had things in common with my friends, an office, children of the same age, an outlook.
When we moved to Northumberland a year ago, I gave up on the friendship I had once known. There is, for instance, noone I feel I could immediately turn to in a crisis - I simply don't feel I know them well enough yet to impose. During my husband's absence in London for three weeks, I was left with my five year old, three year old and a teething baby. One Saturday, after four sleepless nights on the trot, I was desperate. I hated my husband, myself and my children in about that order. I spent the day on my knees. When Sunday dawned, I crawled onto the phone to confide in my absent husband that I simply didn't know how I would cope, what to do with myself or what to do with the children. "I know," came the reply. "Why don't you go to Alnwick garden, gather autumnal leaves and make a collage." "I know," I replied. "Why don't you just come home and you can make the f***ing collage." I know there are people up here who would have welcomed me if I had 'fessed up to a crisis but I just didn't feel I could. I was too low and my children too ghastly to inflict them on anyone. In London, I would have shown no such scruples. I would have thrown everyone in the car and expected my friends to welcome me into their homes even if I was insanely grumpy and my children monstrous.
Without a job to go to up here, my main route into friendships is through school. To start with the village church school is tiny so the potential pool of bosom mates is small. In any event, one of the perks of rural living is a free bus for the kids which cuts down the number of mothers you see. I was desperately disappointed when I realised one particular mum was now bussing her son in. Unlike me, she didn't consider the 40 minute round schlep twice a day worth a few minutes of chirpy banter and who can blame her? Well, me for one.
A substantial number of the other mothers I have met are married to farmers. Even if they aren't, they often have pet horses or sheep. I mean why? Don't they get enough mucking out to do at home already? If they don't keep something with four legs, they often keep chickens instead. For the eggs. Which makes their life a perpetual search for egg boxes. And they don't buy eggs, so you see their problem. Hardly any of them work outside the home. Some of them do some teaching on the side. They aren't news junkies. Few of them talk about books. All in all this town mouse struggles sometimes with her country cousins. Not least when religion comes up in the conversation - which it does. A lot. One couple have been immensely generous and welcoming but I can't say it' s not disconcerting when someone you had previously thought entirely sane admits, he is waiting for Christ to return to earth. He told me: "I believe the world will end, the four horsemen of the apocalypse will come among us, death and destruction, the whole package you know. I would only say this to another believer," I shift uncomfortably in my seat at this. Evolution he dismissed as "a theory". Homosexuality an "abomination". Even slavery was Okayed providing it met the biblical caveat of justice within it.
So take your choice. Do I remain a Billy-no-mates or do I ride with the apocalyptic horsemen and his friends, chickens perched jauntily on our saddles , my inhibitions scattering to the wind.?
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