My husband Rob’s tenure as an acting head of department at Keele University comes to an end on April 1st, and it can’t come soon enough. It was always made clear that in the long run an outside person was wanted, and Rob was happy to play an interim role until a full-time appointment was made. But enough is enough.
We live on campus and don’t have any internet connectivity at home in an attempt to try and keep some work/life balance. Consequently Rob mainly comes home for lunch, and before his headship, would pop back to the office for short periods of an evening or at the weekend. However, with no respite from any of his “normal job activities” and numerous additional demands on his time, 12+ hour days, 7 days a week became the norm!! Lunchtime (if he got one) could swing between anything from 11.15 to 2.45pm, depending on meeting durations or a sudden summons from “on high” being received. Whole days filled with back to back meetings regularly occur, meaning his “day job” duties would start at 5pm or clocking-off time for many others. This situation is all the more frustrating because much of these head of department meetings are on subject matters that you have no qualification for, health & safety, finance, building plans, HR etc! He is a scientist (with his research withering on the vine right now) but finds himself playing a politics game within a hierarchy that has revealed itself in a less than favourable light. Issues of legacy seem to be far higher on the agenda than issues of staff and student well-being.
Strike action over pensions is about to start in universities. Edicts from the powers that be on how to handle the situation, contradict completely the Union manifest on the same subject. It seems to me as if both sides inhabit some alternate reality called La La Land, because their expectations are so unrealistic. Rob as head of department is placed directly in the middle of this maelstrom, being the frontline face and message boy of information, regardless of his own personal feelings on the matter. He is getting hassle from all sides, the university hierarchy, the Union and most damaging of all, grief from colleagues. Rude, ill-tempered and at times derogatory emails flying back and forth is one thing, enduring highly unpleasant face to face confrontations is quite another. It’s hard to accept the Union rep’s mantra “oh it’s nothing personal” having been challenged by a disgruntled colleague “are YOU proud of what the university is doing?” If only that person appreciated just how desperately Rob is trying to tread a fine line of fairness and diplomacy. How he is filtering some of the commands from on high because they are totally ridiculous, being unworkable and highly controversial. But these efforts are going largely unnoticed.
So as strike action looms over the last few weeks of Rob being head of department how do things look to me? Well as I listen to what’s going on from the sidelines, it’s clear that work relationships are bound to be irrevocably damaged by people reacting both in the moment and to the event, whilst generalising Rob’s role in being “one of the bad guys because he’s in management”. There appears to be little awareness that work relationships will have to continue after the dispute is over, however strained that process may be. The mantras being laid down from both the Union and higher university management seem to indicate a “head in the sand” entrenched approach, which shows scant regard for the dynamics of maintaining a good working relationship in the future. It’s all very divisive and I can’t help but reflect on the miner’s strike of the 80s where families and communities were torn apart, many remaining divided to this day. I can see a parallel with the university sector doing battle over pensions now, tuition fees in the future, and lecturers taking sides. Rob will hand over the reins to a new head of department with a sigh of relief in April, but he will never see the university hierarchy or many colleagues in the same light ever again.
I managed to achieve a few personal “firsts” in 2016 which I feel should be acknowledged, and it all began in January at the Burns Night Supper, where I recited two poems in public for the first time ever. I felt a nice sense of accomplishment after that. You can hear my efforts from both 2016 and 2017 Suppers here:
On a regular basis I attend exhibitions but I NEVER thought I would witness the technology that effectively began the space race. Seeing the “Cosmonauts Birth of a Space Age” in the Science Museum London was incredible. Viewing Sputnik, hearing the signal she sent and seeing all that pioneering technology and reading about the history was amazing. That was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. I also managed to see the 175 Faces of Chemistry exhibition at the Royal Society of Chemistry. Here I had the surreal experience of knowing about six of the faces through Rob’s work as a chemistry lecturer. But my “first” was considering one of them a good friend who is still only in the “first phase” of her career. Dr Suze Kundu has achieved so much for her tender years and I’m sure will continue to fly high. I felt quietly proud of knowing this clever young woman who I first met as a bubbly PhD student at the Aberdeen Science Festival 2012.
During the spring I saw The Three Degrees perform at the Crewe Lyceum Theatre for the first and probably only time. Although I’ve attended many concerts and theatre shows, I never cease to marvel at seeing acts I’ve known about since childhood. I still pinch myself at the wonder of it. The Three Degrees were as beautifully attired as I remembered, with vocals as wonderful as ever, and a real class act. At the same theatre in the autumn I witnessed a Q&A with Dame Joan Collins a style of show I hadn’t seen before, although I had seen Joan do pantomime a few years ago.
Toward the end of the football season 2015/16 I decided to get into “pre-season” training immediately. I had thought of doing it before but dismissed the idea fairly quickly. But doing football commentary from the top end of the main stand at Gresty Road needs stamina, and a three month layoff is no good for the body at the start of a new campaign. So I began a proper exercise routine the day after Crewe Alexandra’s last home match. With the aid of a few home exercise DVDs’ I devised my own workout sequence and kept at it, even when I discovered muscles I didn’t know existed and found general movement (especially sitting down/getting up) difficult. Gradually the shock left my system and come August I bounded up the main stand stairs like Rocky in the film. It was with great restraint I didn’t throw my arms aloft and start dancing around. But I did emulate Rocky inside my head which felt good.
The big sensation of the summer was the Pokémon Go craze and Rob jumped on board within a few short weeks. It got him into exercise as well because walks were suddenly on the agenda and I joined the Pokémon bandwagon the third week of August. I had never done any kind of real computer gaming before, and my coordination is such I don’t use the phone much whilst walking, as something is bound to come a cropper. So I learned a new game and by doing so vastly improved my general coordination. And a bonus is the wonderful sunrises, sunsets and morning/evening birdsong I’ve enjoyed witnessing so much. For a while the walks replaced the workout sessions, although I’m trying to mix the two together now, because each has its place. The added bonus to all this activity is I’ve managed to shave a number of inches and pounds off my frame as well.
I finally got around to visiting the observatory for the first time, to witness the transit of Mercury in May, a few months short of my 25th Keele arrival anniversary. The observatory was always somewhere I was going to visit but never got round to it. Another Keele first was finally getting a really good photo of the areas main resident, the grey squirrel. Armed with a new digital camera with a huge optical zoom, I at last captured decent images of these distinct Keelites. I’m also working on some bird photography too.
Last year was particularly good for moon watching and I can hardly believe I’ve got images which make me think of films from the lunar landings. It was the first time I had ever considered turning my camera toward the moon, but I’m so glad I got the idea.
In November I had the pleasure of being a volunteer at the local Fenton Manor Sports Complex. My first time ever at a table tennis event, and it was an international European qualifier match England v Greece. I know absolutely nothing about the game but learned quickly as I undertook my duties as a “live scorer”. England was victorious after a nail biting tie-break set and as we wrapped up the evening, I discovered that 600 had been in the venue and 2.2 million had watched on Bible Sport!! Next day I Googled the site and came across footage of the match (with me in it from a distance), and managed to glean some screen shots for the photo album, another first from the experience.
I’ve always felt privileged to have seen Torvill & Dean perform their Olympic winning routine Bolero after they turned professional and went on tour. I didn’t think I would see another Olympic performance again. But at the London International Horse Show at Olympia I witnessed Charlotte Dujardin & Valegro perform their Gold medal routine from London 2012. I didn’t see it at the time nor afterwards. What an honour to see this pair perform together for one last time to say goodbye. My first ever equine Olympic experience was simply sublime to witness and a glorious way to end my year of “firsts”.
A quarter of a century is a long time in the life of a university and although much has changed at Keele, some things have remained reassuringly the same.
The basic infrastructure of the campus has been kept in place with the same ring road linking everywhere. However the entrance has been moved to nearer the brow of the hill rather than the gatehouse at Barnes. Visitors will find all the “old buildings” still on site but with the addition of newer facilities, such as a medical school, several innovation centres (for business) and a research centre located between the library and Geology. Several of the older buildings have undergone some form of interior re-design over the years, with Chemistry having gained new laboratory suites for example, and the Home Farm complex is now a Sustainability Hub, whatever that is! The Union downstairs area is almost unrecognisable from when I first saw it 25 years ago. Of course this “renewal process” has meant that at various times, in multiple locations, the campus has been a building site. At present the Life Sciences building is being extended and new accommodation is being added to the Barnes site. Once the new student residences are available at Barnes, I’m sorry to say that the Hawthorns site will be demolished. After years of protracted arguments the “death knell” was given for Hawthorns to be transformed into a huge housing complex. The golf course has been allowed to go to seed as well, and after messy negotiations falling through between potential buyers and the council , it looks like that area could well be turned into housing too!!! So the campus may find itself in the middle of a “house building” sandwich in the very near future (finances permitting), with none of the surrounding roads having been remotely improved to deal with the extra pressure from building, or the addition of new people to the area. To add insult to injury, many of the proposed house designs are NOT going to be in the price bracket of your average lowly paid local Staffordshire resident.
Keele still remains largely a dual honours university, although more courses are available as single honours from the beginning of a student degree. So in addition to the Biomedical Sciences course of yesteryear, there are now courses in Midwifery, Nursing, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy. Subjects like Chemistry in an attempt to survive developed an additional Forensics course, whilst a few staff members formed the core of an independent Pharmacy department. Other courses have disappeared altogether such a Principal Languages, Electronics and my beloved Classical Studies.
The student population has definitely doubled and quite possibly trebled since my arrival in 1991. With more students to deal with, the university has begun attempts to simplify the timetable by making less option combinations available. So very soon it will only be possible to study Chemistry in combination with another science for example. Both Rob and I can see the beginning of the end of dual honours in this decision making, which is a great shame because that is what has made Keele so distinctive over the years. It certainly means that I may well be the ONLY person to ever graduate from Keele Universityin Chemistry & Classical Studies. A friend in the Alumni office dug around the records a few years ago and couldn’t find anyone else with that combination degree. Knowing the pressures this almost split-personality degree type puts you under, I’m not surprised. But I’ve always had the mantra “why be a sheep if you can be a shepherd”, and my degree fits this perfectly.
Far more students these days travel into the university on a daily basis than when I was an undergraduate. So the campus can look like an oversized out of town shopping car park, whilst the buses feel more akin to the London Tube during peak time travel. And the Chancellors Building is a bit like Piccadilly Circus with the throng of people leaving/arriving for lectures. Particularly noticeable to me is the obvious recruitment drive that Keele has had in the Far East. From what I hear this has made a rod for the university’s back with the difference in cultures and their interpretation of learning causing problems.
The library is now open 24/7 for students during the semester as well as exam time, when I’m told there is provision of fruit and bottled water at regular points to aid study. In an attempt to alleviate exam stress, I believe this year puppy therapy was offered in the Union as well as free relaxation exercise classes in the Sports Centre. Rather a big difference to my time as a student.
Neil Baldwin (the first person I met at Keele) can still be found loitering in the Students’ Union or the Sports Centre. His extraordinary life story was immortalised in the BBC docu-drama “Marvellous” aired in 2014. As a consequence Neil is in demand for personal appearances elsewhere, but I’m sure he still attends Chapel whenever possible. I was very sorry to recently hear of the demise of the Student Led Services, the first of which was held on February 9th 1992. I was at the forefront of this initiative being the Free Church leader that day alongside my friend Angela Oakey-Jones (now a real life Church of England Reverend).
As for me, the shy girl who could hardly say a word in class or at work, who was literally afraid of her own shadow, is somewhat different today. Through shared experiences with fellow students, I made lifelong friends and grew in confidence as I faced, and overcame difficult situations. The young lady, who was overwhelmed by a professorial personality in her interview, can now speak with ease to anyone of any rank or status. In P1 my fear of the Cambridge/Oxford swagger of two Classics lecturers meant I could barely put a sentence together for their essays. Wise council from the Classics head Richard Wallace sorted me out so much, that in my final year, I gave a seminar with such conviction and depth of research I was told I’d managed to teach the lecturer something new. I literally found my voice at Keele through the Chapel and Classical Studies. Today that voice rings out on Hospital Radio Leighton in Crewe, where I present a music show, a patient request program and play my part in the Crewe Alex football commentary team.
In conclusion, I got the degree I so desperately craved but from a country and university I never originally considered, in subjects I never contemplated studying. And I married the kind of man I always hoped existed but never dreamt I would meet. So when all is said and done I think it’s true to say “I was born in Scotland but I was made in Keele University”.
When I initially applied to university in the autumn of 1990 I named only Scottish universities on my UCCA form (St Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeen, Stirling and hesitantly Strathclyde). The most natural place/subject choice for me would have been Topographic Science at Glasgow, combining my love of geography, maths and my passion for maps. But I have always railed against being “pigeon-holed” and believed it better to study a wide range of geography options first, before specialising so much. Hence why I named Strathclyde instead, although I knew I had to move away completely to have any chance of gaining a degree. I’d just about got through school with the corrosive atmosphere at home dominating my life; I couldn’t stand the thought of doing a degree from a Cleland base. So when it became clear that my four years out of school was standing against me, (a Stirling interview suggested I did more Highers at evening class to get up to speed again), I looked for foundation courses. I could see only three places that offered them; Newcastle who I could never get on the phone, Manchester who would put me straight into clearing and Keele who offered an interview.
All I had ever wanted was a degree and the graduation photo with scroll for the mantelpiece. I adored Geography principally the physical aspect of the subject, and had not missed a beat in my interview with the Geography lecturer’s questions. I loved science, but had been terrified by the aura of Prof Morgan from Chemistry and had muttered “dunno” to every question he asked, kicking myself when he confirmed the answers that had been screaming in my head all along. I thought I had blown it, but the Professor liked my “spunk”, and much later I discovered it was on his personal recommendation I had been accepted. Clearly my quip about the Scots superiority over the English education system had NOT gone down badly with the Newfoundland born professor. The Geography lecturer on the other hand loathed my attitude from that moment on, and a silent war (on his part) was declared between us. This eventually resulted in me changing to Classical Studies at the start of my first principal year.
My foundation year was brilliant, as I found myself faced with a plethora of subject matter options ranging from a few weeks to an entire academic year in length. My alarm bells clanged violently when I was timetabled for a year course in “human” Geography, something I had vehemently expressed an intense dislike for in my interview. The option I had chosen was apparently unavailable, but had I realised it was taught by my interviewer, I may have twigged to the problems ahead. Gullibly I thought the Geography department knew best and with reluctance studied the subsidiary course. It caused me nothing but grief and I fought Geography the whole year. Consequently I got to know my general tutor Dr Rob Jackson in Chemistry quite well, as he was never off the phone trying to sort things out for me. Sadly I had to face the fact KeeleGeography and me were not going to be a marriage made in heaven, so I kept my love of the subject but studied something else. But that Geography ill wind blew something else in my direction as I ended up marrying Rob Jackson.
I hadn’t managed to study anything in Geology during my foundation year, mainly because of the way my timetable worked out. Therefore I had no knowledge of the department that would have been the natural alternative to Geography, particularly as many of the options sounded similar to the ones I salivated over. But I couldn’t face the possibility of another battle with a department and chose Classics instead. Having studied a term under the Classics head of department Mr Richard Wallace, whom I adored, it was an easy choice to make. I had really quite enjoyed my Chemistry course in foundation year, so kept my science going in this area.
I had no idea at the time of finalising my principal subjects that I would end up marrying a lecturer from one of them. This would later cause such tension in my Chemistry studies, the joy I had for the subject was sucked out of me. I’m afraid Chemistry was so paranoid about covering their backside ensuring it was seen I got no special treatment, that things happened which would be neither tolerated or condoned in today’s politically correct student climate. It was my Classical Studies course which kept me going in the latter part of my degree, and I proudly took my place in the department graduation class photo. I refused to be in the Chemistry photo at all.
Throughout my degree there was always a nagging issue with my health, which began going “funny” in the late summer of 1990. Investigations found nothing, so I was just left to deal with the flare ups that came out of nowhere. With hindsight I now realise that the concerns I had regarding my health, played a part in influencing my decision to study subjects NOT requiring compulsory field trips, and discarding the concurrent Education course too.
I felt great in FY, had niggles in the middle and end of my P1 year which continued to the beginning of my P2 year. It became obvious I needed to take some time off to try and deal with my health and there was the small matter of organising a wedding too. When I resumed my studies I was in a different year group and new options had become available in Classical Studies. From the few weeks in P2 I had experienced the year before, I reluctantly had to concede that keeping my Latin would be very hard, as it really was like having three principal degree subjects. It just about killed me inside giving up the Latin area of my studies, but the new options made the pain easier to bear. The wonders of Latin poetry, Greek drama, Roman & Greek art and architecture, Roman Egypt and New Testament Studies opened up instead. If I’d continued with Latin I’d have experienced only a few of these delights, as the language aspect of the course would have been 50% of my timetable. In my new P2 year I thrived in Classical Studies but began to realise that Chemistry wasn’t going to be so easy to deal with. The department attitude toward me had changed dramatically, and educationally I’d hit a brick wall in the organic area of Chemistry. With horror it dawned on me just how heavily orientated many of the options were toward this field. Although the physical, theoretical and mathematical side of Chemistry held no terror for me, I really began to struggle. Every week I had a major lab report and problem sheet to do and the effort of producing the goods wore me down. I felt I was on a conveyor belt with just no time to really think, “smell the roses” and enjoy the science. Always feeling I had to watch my back and be on guard didn’t help matters either.
In the final year my undiagnosed health issues spectacularly hit new heights, I was never out of the doctor’s surgery. Looking back, for that entire year I was probably either under a perpetual mental fog, or legally as high as a kite through multiple prescription drug use. Despite being in poor physical shape I managed to finish my studies to graduate with a 2:2 Honours in Chemistry and Classical Studies with Subsidiary Mathematics and Geography.
Six months after graduating I had lost 4.5 stones in weight, flat-lined and underwent emergency surgery for Crohn’s Disease. My surgeon said the only thing that had kept me alive was my “obvious bloody-minded pig stubborn attitude”. I agreed because that frame of mind got me my degree as well.
Twenty-five years ago this week (5th October) I arrived at Keele University as a 21 year-old fresher registered for a four year foundation course. I knew nothing about my new home having never experienced an open or visits day, in fact I’d spent about an hour in the area before I arrived. As a mature student I had won my place through an interview in May of 91, which turned out well with having to work three months notice from my job in the Clydesdale Bank.
My 5ft 2 inch eight stone frame hauled a thirty inch wheeled collapsible suitcase and a twenty inch rigid case, with duvet strapped to the side, off the 85 bus from Crewe. As I staggered into the students’ union building I heard a deep monotone voice boom out “boys”, and immediately I had assistance with my bags. I had come upon a Keele institution in the form of Neil Baldwin, the first person I met on my first day. His “boys” were his football team members, who he had marshalled to help ease the arrival of new students. Neil helpfully pointed me in the direction of where I collected my keys, assured me my bags would be safe, and that he would be waiting for my return. Discovering I was to be housed in the Hawthorns residence in the village, Neil said I’d just missed the mini bus and had half an hour wait for its return. I’d noticed Neil wearing around his neck a wooden cross pendant on a leather braid. As my eyes glanced at that simple but distinct sign of faith Neilasked “so are you a Christian then?” I replied “I’d like to think so” and mentioned I hoped to join the Chapel Choir. At that Neilpromptly whisked me toward the Chapel, introduced me to the chaplains, gave me a quick tour of the building and made sure I knew where and when to go for the first choir practice. This was all before the mini bus arrived and I departed for the Hawthorns to see my room!!!
After I had unpacked, I remember sitting on my bed and giving myself a good talking too. I knew I carried two massive Grand Canyon chips on my shoulders called “Mam and Dad hang-ups”. I asked myself if I was going to be the person that had left Cleland OR the person I thought I could be, given a chance. I decided on the latter choice, realising no one knew me here, it was a clean slate. So psychologically I began filling in those shoulder chips as I strode out into my new surroundings. Oddly for two days I never saw another woman, only guys wandering the beautiful vast campus area. It wasn’t until the Friday night as I left my room to attend a residence reception party; I came upon a gang of women gathering in the hallway of Hawthorns H block, with the same party in mind. It transpired that in the all female blocks everyone congregated in the kitchen to get to know each other, whilst the all male blocks did not have such a ritual, hence why they tramped around campus instead like me. My wanderings did give me a head start when it came to registration and finding buildings when term officially began, but I also heard the odd misguided mutter about “starting early with the fellas” as I waved/said hello to various chaps heading to class.
My lifetime ambition was to attend university, but I had no chance of applying directly from school with the spectre of “parental contributions” being a factor in the financial process. So I discovered if I could prove my independence from my parents for a minimum of four years, then I could apply without fear of them being a consideration. My Dad had never let my Mum know how much he earned, so there wasn’t the remotest chance he would tell me anything. Both parents were dead set against me leaving a pensionable job on a “bloody whim”, and the fact that over 800 people were made redundant from the bank within a month of my departure, made little difference to their disdain. Without a doubt I would have been one of the redundant, but my defence for my actions fell on deaf ears and my Mammy barely spoke a word to me for a whole year, she just cut me dead most of the time when I attempted a conversation. Later “small talk” was restored, but anything to do with Keele was NEVER mentioned by her at all.
Throughout my school years where I had shown reasonable ability, neither parent had shown much of an interest. So all the decision making on subjects, worry of making the grade, terror of exams, dealing with the onslaught of bullying, as well as the growing pains of trying to fit into a confusing world, fell onto my solitary shoulders. I had absolutely no emotional support whatsoever from “family” in school, and it was abundantly clear that this state of affairs would continue at university. My sole support team consisted of three old school teachers I had stayed in touch with, and my Cleland Baptist pastor Archie Ferguson and his wife Agnes. In fact it was Archie and Agnes who gave me the confidence to get the ball rolling, by encouraging me to fill in the UCCA form. But my relationship with the support team was from a distance, not the sort where I could “chew the fat” over numerous cups of tea and late night pizza, with a reassuring hug at the end.
Being used to dealing with most things on my own meant I was a solitary kind of person with few friends at school or work. When I left the only home I’d known in Parkside Cleland, no one considered waving me off at the local railway station. As I went by train to Glasgow and onto Crewe before catching the bus to Keele, I was literally in every sense completely alone as I made my leap of faith into tertiary education. Arriving at the university I met Neil Baldwin, who in his amiable way put a proverbial arm around me and welcomed me to my new home. His simple helpful gestures paved the way for me to start my new life in Keele, as the university student I had always wanted to be.
It’s Mother’s Day and you are not here to receive a gift or card. So I thought I’d write you a letter as I have so much I want to say. I’ve put the last good photo of you as a stamp on this so the angels know who to deliver it too. And I’ve enclosed some others as well since I have your photo album here. Some pictures you won’t have seen before. Remember how Granny Bowes used to write letters with no punctuation except for the odd full stop!! Well for ease of reading I’m putting this into “bite-size” chunks so you can read bits when you have time ok.
All The Adults From My Childhood
Of course I’m sure since you left me and Paul, you’ve been surrounded by the menagerie of pets from over the years, and have hooked up with all the folk I knew as a wee girl. You were always at Granny Bowes’ house taking care of things, or running messages for Jim & Cathy Bryce at no. 12, or keeping Nellie Neill company whilst I played with her grandson. Say a big hello to all of them for me. And of course big hugs to Granny, Uncle Harry and Aunty Maggie. Sorry I know I should include Uncle Allan but I was never overly keen on him, too much like Dad I’m afraid. Sadly Granny, Jim, Cathy and Nellie were all gone from my life by the time I was around eight. Then my wee pal Craig Twaddle from Cleland Primary moved to Preston in October 79. I never got to say a proper goodbye to him, I’d to get to the house and make sure the Prudential man was paid. I cried all the way home that day, and a shutter went down in my young mind. Everyone was gone more or less, and I vowed I would never hurt like this again. That barrier stayed with me until I was well into my twenties. I don’t think you had any idea.
I only met him for a short time when I was about four. Having gone to Australia on a £10 ticket around late 50’s/early 60’s he was far away. Mind you out of sight was not out of mind as far as you were concerned. When commercial radio began in about 73/74 regular requests were sent to Radio Clyde for Harry’s birthday. It was my responsibility (aged 3+) to listen to the Frank Skerritt and Sydney Devine shows and record the requests onto tape, as a gift for the big day. Is it any wonder I feel most comfortable with a pair of headphones on, messing about with music? It was ideal preparation for my volunteering at Hospital Radio Leighton and in January I completed ten years there, can you imagine! Regular airmail letters were sent to Australia as well, and you got me into writing letters too. The joy of pen pals came easily when I was a teenager as a result.
Up until I started high school you took me to see my locally based cousins every Saturday. We would visit your two sisters and Dad’s two brothers on alternate weeks. But as bus fares rose, and you began to realise that most of them all had car access, you stopped making the effort. This meant that when Paul was born (I was 15 ½) he never knew any of them, with the exception of Aunty Maggie. At your funeral I had to scratch my head trying to identify the handful of relatives in attendance, poor Paul hadn’t a clue. Suffice to say both Paul and I could walk past any of the clan in Lanarkshire and make no connection. They would probably stop us though, I have your face and Paul has Dad’s, a bit of a Bowes/McCully giveaway. Not surprising then I view the concept of family as a curious notion, I consider the people I call friends as family instead.
Both Paul and I grew up in a house where the past was ever present, and the present didn’t matter. No matter what was happening NOW you would brush it off and talk about something from years back, with “oor so and so done that or went there”. Rob’s mother is 93 now and reads her diaries to keep hold of the past. But you lived the past your whole life. You were old before your time, and you made me old before mine, as I was your main confidante for all your worries and woes. When I went to Keele I had to fill in the Grand Canyon chips on my shoulders inherited from you and Dad. And I had to try very hard to find the person inside I thought I could be, because I didn’t know who that was.
Paul is doing well at college now and is engaged to a lovely lass called Kerry. You were there in spirit at the engagement though, because Kerry has your engagement ring. I can just hear you muttering
“whit’s guid enough fur Prince William and Kate, is guid enough fur ma laddie and Kerry”
Kerry took this picture in November last year. Yes, you can take a picture of yourself (called a selfie) with a phone these days!!! A long way away from the days of sending “spools to get developed”. Kerry is studying beauty therapy at college, and has a black-belt in tae-kwon-do that funny sounding martial art. So Paul knows to behave himself ha ha. You always hoped you would see Paul reach the age of 21, and you managed it with ten months to spare. I know you’d be very proud of Paul and Kerry making a go of it, and trying to better themselves with college. But I feel with me it was a different matter.
You always told me not to be like you and stick in at school. Yet when I showed myself to be a natural kind of scholar, you seemed threatened somehow. At high school I was virtually thrown out of the house to attend my only prize giving. But you refused to speak to me for a year when I went to university. Through the whole course at Keele University you would not entertain the merest conversation about it. When I told you I’d graduated your exact words were
“so this stupid malarkey is over with is it. Not that it matters getting a degree, but at least you got a guid man oot it”.
A word of congratulations would have been nice, or a well done, but there was no chance of that! I shouldn’t have been surprised though because having uttered the words “oonyverity” aged three you said to Granny
“if it wisnae fur his temper and ma ears, I’d swear the hosepital gave me the wrang wein”
Clearly we were on a different paths altogether. But considering you never got so much as an ounce of encouragement yourself, from family or in your marriage, I can easily understand you not being able to fully encourage me. The support and encouragement I desperately needed came from Archie & Agnes in the church, and my old school teachers Mrs Pender, Mrs Mitchell and particularly Mr Brown. I suspect if you’ve met Mr Brown up in heaven you gave him a rollicking for giving me fancy ideas, poor guy. And I know you won’t like me saying this, but Archie and Mr Brown were the main male role models in my formative years. Although I only knew them from a distance, they were the ones I seen the most of growing up.
Bingo & Horse Racing
I distinctly remember you playing bingo from Radio Luxemburg, you telling tales of going to bingo by water bus in Malta, and prize bingo in Cleland in the Old Folks Hall. So I’m presuming you have found the heavenly bingo hall by now. Remember how you had a big cash win the night Torvill & Dean won their Olympic Gold medal. It meant I celebrated the occasion with a battered sausage and chips supper you brought back that night. I bet you were surprised when I got to be a bit of an Olympian myself in 2012. No I never suddenly gained an ounce of natural sporting ability, but I was a volunteer for London 2012, so I enclose a snap of me in my uniform for you to look at.
You also enjoyed a wee flutter on the horses too, just a few pence but you enjoyed the thrill. If there is a Grand National from the ghosts of yester year where you are, Red Rum my first sporting hero will always be my number one choice. Not that I’ve ever put a bet on, I don’t know how, you made sure of that. You always feared there was a potential rouge gambling gene in my DNA from Dad, so you ensured its traits would never come to light. But it was definitely your influence that brought me to be a horse racing pundit for a friends sport website. Bissom!
Dad, a merchant seaman was away a lot of the time, thank goodness. Because when he was home it was rarely good, him being a heavy drinker and a bad gambler didn’t make life easy. You worked 2/3 part time jobs just to make ends meet. So after Granny died when I was six I became my own baby sitter, with the family pets, radio and TV and my teddies for company. I got to be self reliant and that’s probably why I don’t particularly feel alone in my own company. When Paul was born, you were much older and less able to go out to work. So you were always around for him, and I think that’s why he needs company about to quell feelings of loneliness.
My teddies (and a few dolls) are VERY IMPORTANT to me; each one has a place, person or event associated with them; and there are over seventy now. You unceremoniously put my first teddy in the bin one day when I was at school. The violent reaction you encountered from me at this discovery, guaranteed you never made that mistake again!! Is Teddy receiving some better care in heaven, and does Granny look after wee Tommy doll? Tommy was the twin brother of wee Betty that Granny bought for my second birthday. When I went through the house after you passed away, I found Betty but not Tommy. I have a feeling he succumbed to an attack from Brandy the dog. There were only two places I never explored, the loft and the boiler cupboard in Paul’s room. Anyway, Betty is comfortable with me at Keele and we accept her brother alas is long gone. Here is a picture of Betty, Colin the Koala (Uncle Harry), Goldie (Aunty Maggie) and Agnes the rabbit named after you. I took this little one from your room at Ravenscourt, and she reminds me of you very much. Her pale colouring, feisty and opinionated character and her dainty mouth and pink nose are all you. I know, I know, you didn’t have a pink nose, but Dad described you as having a Miss Prim mouth and pug nose.
So how do things stand today I hear you wonder. Well Paul is nearly finished college, and still lives in Tinto Way, so a McCully has been resident in that house since it was built about 46 years ago. I think Ravenscourt Nursing Home is still there, although it went through some difficulty as the company running it had finance problems. It was the place you called home for your last years, and I’m grateful to them for giving you a quality of life you sadly were lacking. Rob and I still live in the flat at Keele and will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary in April. Rob still works in the department, plays trombone and is always dashing about. He is a very good man who adores me and I love him to bits.
Rob and I in London last week (another selfie)
Your stroke meant that when you died you were not the woman I had grown up with, but a younger version of yourself before the cares of the world ground you down. Granny was never able to express any love toward you, but you made sure that Paul and I knew we were loved very much. As I glance in the mirror the woman I see before me is you, as the chin develops and the hair becomes ever whiter. You are never far away in my thoughts and please remember…