Margaret Forster has died

hqdefaultHer work includes stories of her early years in Carlisle in the 1940s and 50s.

In those days, before the M6 and the electrification of the West Coast Main Line, it and its Eden valley hinterland were cut off from the rest of England for much of the year when bad weather blocked the A6 over Shap and the road to Hexham.

It’s a particular part of the world, with the Pennines to the east, Scotland 8 miles to the north, the Solway to the west and the Lake District and Shap fell to the south. It doesn’t belong to the north east and Newcastle, though some would put it there. It doesn’t belong to Lancashire and Manchester, though the BBC thinks it does. It doesn’t feel at home in Scotland, though it was on and off until not that long ago. It is, as I say, particular. And so are its people.

After reading one of her books I wrote to say inter alia that so much of what she described of her childhood in the 1940s resonated with me and mine ten years later. It evidently took a decade for Carlisle attitudes to travel 20 miles upstream along the River Eden. At that time I’d not long moved to Ireland and I told her that this blunt and forthright Cumbrian was having to come to terms with the slantiness of Irish ways.

Her reply was wonderful, and I hope she would not have minded my sharing a bit of it with you. She described the exchange between her father and a visiting nurse bent down dressing his poorly leg. Imagine the flat vowels and properly pronounced consonants.

Yer must find it hard doin a job like yoo-ers.

Why’s that, Mr Forster?

Well, with you bein so stout.

Cumbrian factual straightforwardness with offence neither intended nor taken.

The inhabitants of lesser counties – and they are all lesser – simply don’t get it.

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