Keeping Stories Alive

images (3)I’m fighting a losing battle but every eight weeks, I take myself to the hairdresser to banish the grey roots, for another wee while… I’m not ashamed to admit that while I’m there I like to flick through Heat and Closer to see what the celebrities have been up to since my last visit. But I’m more interested in the lives of real people, the ones that aren’t rich and famous. The folk that you walk past in the street without a second glance and haven’t had their lives airbrushed and edited. Minus an injection of Botox, these well lived-in faces carry stories in every wrinkle and laughter line.

gwl-logoIt’s rare that ordinary folk have their stories recorded for future generations and that’s why oral history is so important in making sure these tales aren’t lost. I’m a big supporter of gathering stories from working class people and in particular from a woman’s point of view. That’s why I was keen to go along to the Women Making History Group in West Dunbartonshire organised by Glasgow Women’s Library (GWL) to find out more about the project and to meet a very special woman who is a key member of the group.

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Never let it be said my research trips take me to exotic locations!


I travelled to deepest darkest Dalmuir to the Community Centre and received a really warm welcome by Lorna Stevenson who skillfully facilitates the group. The group’s aim is to research and document the life histories of ordinary local women throughout West Dunbartonshire with a focus on the theme of their ‘social lives’ and showcase these through the development of two unique community and educational resources in the form of a Memory Box and an A5 booklet.  It was great to hear about their plans to source archive material and record their stories. I think a memory box is a brilliant idea for every family to contribute to and pass on to the next generation to keep their history alive.

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This is the type of celebrity I prefer to meet – Violet is a local legend!

I love history and have a fascination for Russia. That might help explain why the idea for my latest writing project highlights the Siege of Leningrad within a contemporary setting but also weaves in a local event in social history. A few months ago, I read an article in the Herald magazine featuring GWL’s Badges of Honour exhibition in which Violet McGuire’s Scotland USSR Society badge was part of the display. I knew that it would be really valuable for me to speak to Violet and thanks to GWL, I got the chance to chat to her about her connection to Russia. Violet is an exceptionally interesting woman who has traveled many times to Russia and I could’ve listened to her talking for hours. I felt very privileged to get the opportunity to speak to Violet who will be 92 years old in December and has a better memory than me. The work of GWL in saving Violet and other women’s stories is important in helping to stitch together the rich tapestry of social history and they do an amazing job on a very limited budget.

My dad died suddenly aged 62 and I wish I’d written down the stories of his childhood but feel in some way comforted that stories like Violet’s won’t be forgotten thanks to GWL.

Have you ever created a memory box? Have you recorded or written down family stories?

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.