John Marrin - 18 Ford Village, Northumberland
By Katriina Marrin
`The weather outside is frightful, But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
This is a report from what has been a little bit like Ice Station Zebra since 23rd December. Today is 13th January and we have had our first postal delivery at home for ten days. I was impressed by our postman, Rob, who said he felt the mail was starting to pile up (snow-like) at the sorting office, so went well out of his way, slithering on ice, to bring us the backlog. All good news, obviously - poor (though not so poor as us) postman had to abandon his van and walk to reach us. In the big bundle he'd brought was a letter, posted in December, from the doctor, telling me I'd been invited to have a swine flu jab at 5.05 pm today. I phoned the surgery to say (at 4.50 pm) that I wasn't going to make it because, a) I couldn't get there, and b) I didn't want it anyway and I had only received the letter half an hour earlier. They couldn't believe it. But after the year we have had I can believe almost anything.
Local people have talked about cabin fever; some people have spoken of cushion fever, getting bored with being confined to the sofa. And you know you're going mad when you start to think you're evolving into Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago, just because there are icicles and frost flowers everywhere.
It's the sheer frustration of not being able to get to where you want to be. I spoke to a nice man at the Royal Mail Delivery Office in Berwick who said they wouldn't be making any deliveries to our shop because they hadn't had any themselves. I told him I was thinking of investing in a helicopter because if I did there would be a queue in the field opposite. He said: `What a good idea' and that he and his co-workers would certainly come in on it. Where is Richard Branson ?
How do I begin to describe the fun and games of trying to run a bookselling business when you live on the edge of the Lammermuir Hills and the books themselves are a few miles down the road? John Marrin Rare Books is run from Ford Village in Northumberland, and specialises in material relating to the Great War. John travels widely to exhibit where he can and certainly enjoys meeting with friends and colleagues in the trade. Although we rarely see other ABA members aside from Book Fairs. it is good to know the support of the Association is there.
There can be drawbacks to being based in a sparcely populated area and having to use a lot of expensive fuel to travel, but the Ford estate is beautifully unspoilt, nestling as it does between Northumberland National Park and the Tweed valley. Recently though, getting there has been a challenge. There has been the two mile walk through snow, clinging to dry stone walls for fear of falling on the ice, back down the hill to where we were forced to leave the car. John fell over three times on his way down the hill. (How has he not broken a leg?) Then negotiating the A1 to Berwick along a road that was thick with ice and praying for better conditions further down. (Is that a metaphor for life?) At Morrisons there was a white out, but brief respite in seeing other people who had also struggled through adverse conditions enjoying hot coffee and hot food.
And then on to the shop. And three feet of snow, and John having to dig his way to the door to find no mail but plenty of mice. Who can blame them?
Anyway I think you will have got the picture by now. We need the weather (both meteorological and economical) to change.
Ford Village has a number of historic buildings (our shop was once the gamekeeper's cottage)one of which is Lady Waterford Hall. It was the school from 1860 to 1957 and attracts lots of visitors who come to see the murals which were painted by Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford in the Pre-Raphaelite style, using the local villagers as her models. The hall closes for the winter, which is when a silence settles on the estate. Now, all the small businesses who need any passing trade they can get, are waiting for the new season to begin, and dreaming of new ways of publicising themselves. Having a shop in a location that occasionally feels like the village that time forgot is both challenging and, when the weather isn't against you, a real pleasure.
Also, it's nearly a year since I went into hospital for the first of five visits during 2009. I won't bore you with it - though, if anyone wants to know what it's like being hurtled in an ambulance across the Scottish Borders with a suspected blood clot in the lung. I can tell them. So, let’s be grateful for still being here, remembering those who are not, and looking forward and hoping and praying for the best.
>>> John Marrin Rare Books
The article was first published in the ABA Newsletter 356 as part 2 of “Far-Flung Booksellers”. It is presented here by permission of the editor Brian Lake and the ABA. Thank you very much.