Oral History and why Memories Matter


Who doesn’t like to reminisce? This week I was greedy and indulged myself with a double dose of happy memories. Hubby and I went to the Riverside Museum. Glasgow’s well-loved Museum of Transport relocated last summer to the banks of the River Clyde. The trip has been on our ‘to do’ list for a while and we were keen to see the new building that was designed by internationally-renowned architect, Zaha Hadid and houses 3000 objects, each with their own story.


What really surprised me most was that amidst exhibits such as a glamorous 1910 Bentley, I saw part of my own story, a humble Raleigh RSW bike. It was the same colour and model as my first ‘real’ childhood bike.Memories of my dad sourcing the second-hand bike for me (not the one I dreamed of!) came flooding back and inspired me to write a short story about an ungrateful child (don’t know where I got the idea from!). Here’s a short extract,
“It is brown. Not candy pink or baby blue like my sister’s bike. Brown. The colour of shit. And it has a brown and green checked shopping bag on the back. For shopping. I am ten. This is a lady’s bike. This isn’t a Chopper. This isn’t cool. It’s crap.”


The following day, I ended up thinking about my dad again. I was at a workshop, an introduction to Oral History at the Scottish Oral History Centre in Glasgow.  The day’s programme included how to plan a project, interviewing techniques and I got the chance to play around with Zoom,the latest in digital recorders. Technology has come a long way since I belted, “Ma! He’s Making Eyes at Me” into my tape cassette recorder, convincing myself that I was just as good as Lena Zavaroni (I’m still deluded that I can sing!) 

The workshop made me appreciate how oral history has helped to preserve hidden histories, especially under represented topic areas and marginalised communities. The concept really struck a chord with me when I thought about my dad’s background. Professor McIvor used his book, ‘Miner’s Lung’ as an example.  The book is an exploration into the diseases suffered by miners due to their horrendous working conditions. One of the men he interviewed could have been my granda, Peter Meechan. He was a miner living in the small North Lanarkshire village of Croy and would have experienced the same brutal working conditions. No such thing as Health and Safety regulations in those days! 


Home life was just as tough too. My gran, Annie died aged 44. She had given birth to 15 children (Peter junior never survived). My dad, Archie was the eighth child of 14 and told me that in his house, “first up, was the best dressed.” And yet although my dad never played down the reality of his childhood (the wrong bike was never an issue!), the stories he told were always full of laughter. Maybe telling his own oral history he romanticised some of the details to entertain me and my sister but does it really matter? But it does matter that the history of communities like his are faithfully represented and their story is told.

I haven’t got the skills or knowledge to record the lives of the families like my dad’s for historical purposes; I’ll leave that to the experts.  But if my dad was still alive, I’d have a Zoom recorder ready to capture his special stories. It’s too late for that now. My dad didn’t leave a record of his life but he did pass on his storytelling ability. And for that I will always be grateful.

The only childhood photo of my dad.


           

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