Is the Vicar In, Pet? From the pit to the pulpit -
my childhood in a Geordie vicarage
Sphere Books £7.99
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use code
BARBARA FOX's charming memoir (to quote the dust jacket)
describes one year of her childhood in the 1970s.
She is nine when her father becomes Vicar in "the biggest mining
village in the world": Ashington, in the north-east of England - a
thriving, close-knit mining community still in its pre-Thatcher
heyday. Against a background of net curtains, outside lavatories
("netties"), smoking chimneys, and gregarious neighbours, Barbara
and her three siblings learn to "speak Geordie" and adapt to their
The colourful neighbours become "Aunty June" or "Uncle Ted", and
eventually "Mum" becomes "Mam". The vicarage hosts numerous popular
parish events, after years of inhospitality from the previous
incumbent, who was a bachelor.
These are the joys and duties of clergy children: a big house
and garden, but a public life, with conspicuous dad and
commented-on mother (no net curtains! But she's got a dishwasher
and a chest freezer); constant visitors, but an honest welcome into
many households - including unsavoury old women and their cats.
The author's childhood experience is enthusiastically chronicled
down to the last cream bun: every game, meal, school relationship,
popular product, TV programme, Enid Blyton book, and domestic
conversation is included.
There are notable events (particularly the miners' strike), and
a host of colourful characters, but it felt somehow ghost-written -
talking of which, was there a ghost, and why was so little
made of it? - made into a popular narrative, detailed and dialogued
but somehow lacking immediacy. Writing about childhood cannot be
After a year, Ashington becomes "home".
It's an easy read. Women will identify with Barbara's swooning
over long-haired chaps in the church choir, fantasising about film
stars and romance, and joining in competitive handstands and
skipping-games. Oh, for the life of a nine-year-old. But who is it
for? Is it a memoir? Social history? Nostalgia? I'll settle for
good light entertainment.