Annie McS – a woman who had such a strong formative influence on me – died yesterday. Very suddenly. A brain haemorrhage.
Annie was my friend, Karl’s, mother.
And Annie was the first to show me that life didn’t need to be a two-up two-down cooncil hoose; a dead-end job; a man who spent every Friday in the pub ‘with the boys’; a life of cleaning and hoovering and shopping and cooking.
I remember my mother, asking, shocked, Isnae that the wummin that wears nae knickers? when I said that I’d been speaking to Annie when I’d gone for Karl.
I’ve thought of that question over the years and have decided that it reveals a whole lot about my mother and the constrained life she’d led up til then.
I never did ask whether she wore knickers but Annie was different.
She was English and middle-class in an unremittingly bleak Scottish working -class town. She was a hippy – wearing the cheesecloth and the maxi skirts; tacking flags of Che Guevera over the windows of her sitting-room; refusing to entertain a television; pasting posters of the la revolucion and of socialist protest over the walls of her tumbledown victorian semi home. She served up vegetarian food in a town which knew only square sausage stovies and mince n tatties. She enrolled for – and finished – an OU degree despite having two young kids. She divorced and then got hitched to a younger Shotts man – but was (for a short time at least) a single parent (shock horror).
I remember the haven of her sitting-room circa mid-80s. Blue beanbag chairs; a wine cream and blue Wilton carpet; a dappled adult-sized rocking horse in the large bay window; walls covered in book cases which were full of tomes on child-rearing and psychology and primary education; and a large upright piano which she would play. And no television.
It was she who talked Mike Watts (the principal oboeist for the SNO and principal with the baroque Telemann Ensemble) into taking our little recorder group every Thursday night. He actually came to Shotts! To take five amateurs through a selection of baroque recorder music – I’ve still got my alto recorder…
I was in the grips of ‘rebellion’ against the constraints of Shotts (I apologise for the genteel version of rebellion I’m giving you). I was just discovering feminism – and at the time was confused by the apparent message it was giving me that the economic world was more important than the personal, domestic world – that I had to forgo children as that way feminine weakness lay and embrace the workplace…
So it was probably most ‘shocking’ of all to that early feminist-me, that she was the first woman I ever saw breastfeed her three youngest kids. After having given birth to them all at home with no pain relief.
To men the former no doubt sounds like a bizarre and rather meaningless observation – but Annie’s example quite literally changed my world-view. And her example was the strongest one I carried both as a young pregnant woman and as a professional worker.
Annie taught me – by example -that women could be nurturing as well as academically engaged and economically active. That women mattered. But more – that it was important that I both recognise and value the difference between a man and a woman’s experience of the world – the difference did not mean that one experience of the world was more valid than the other… It was in the act of valuing one above the other that madness lay.
I still despair that women do not have a voice in society. That our voice is only heard insofar as it accords with the male-set agenda.
From the drop in women politicians in the Uk, to the failure to fund and support home birthing and midwife-led small units; from the domestic violence statistics to the fact that government cuts will disproportionately hit women (the lowest paid workers in our workforce). From Art to Literature to Politics to everyday life, a woman’s voice is either absent or goes unheard, ignored.
Oh Annie. I am sorry you have gone. But you leave behind a rich legacy of memories and influences.