The rose of all the world…

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This is my Dad, Stan Stratton.  It is, amazingly, now 16 years since he died. As we take a deep breath and await the outcome of Thursday’s referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country, let me tell you a little about my father.

The wonderfully named Eugene Stanley Stratton was born in Stenhouse, Edinburgh in 1932, one of the five children of Agnes and Edward Stratton.  In study and work he did pretty well, eventually settling into a career with the BBC.  He was well-travelled, intelligent and humane, with a wicked sense of humour which he could always turn on himself.  He could also pour you a mean measure of whisky and liked nothing better than to settle in for a right good blether, invariably about politics.  It is his political and personal legacy I want to write about here, just 72 hours before polls close on Thursday 18th and we go through that ‘long dark night of the soul’ waiting for the results to come in.  When those hours finally come round, it will not have been two long years in the making and waiting; for us it will be the culmination of five decades of belief in the Scottish people’s ability to best govern themselves.

In 1962, he and a great friend, John Conway, established branch 67 of the S.N.P. at Strathendrick, West Stirlingshire, and worked tirelessly to promote the then very unpopular idea that Scotland should be an independent country.  In 1979 Dad stood as the S.N.P. candidate for West Dumbartonshire – with about as much chance of being elected in such a Labour stronghold as the proverbial snowball in hell.  As a child I was surrounded by political discussion and activism, alongside a strong sense of community, and self belief, and self-value.  Of course the people of Scotland had a history to be proud of, a literature and music worth studying, a cultural life of worth!  Of course we could run our own country!  This was never in doubt in our household.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the ruling political parties at the time, nor those in charge of education.

Stan Stratton in 1979 election broadcast for the S.N.P.

Stan Stratton in 1979 election broadcast for the S.N.P.

Just as my two children have enjoyed “Yes spotting” if out in the car, so my brother and I would shriek delightedly if we spotted the weel-kent colours and graphics of the 1970s S.N.P. posters.  I have two particularly strong memories of those times: firstly,  eavesdropping on all the grown up chat one night, probably aged about 7, and hearing, with absolute, terrifying and total terror, the talk about nuclear weapons and what a nuclear explosion would do to a human body.  I was so traumatised by this information I was struck dumb through fear, and was silent all of the next day until finally sobbing hysterically that I didn’t want to be burned to a shadow on the ground.  Secondly, I remember in the early ’80s, with Thatcherism at its height and the Cold War still a looming threat, my Dad and colleagues going around the Faslane and Garelochhead peninsula placing big red and black signs along the road:  “Warning.  You are entering a high-risk nuclear danger area.”  The Ministry of Defence didn’t much like this and someone wrecked the signs, breaking them in two and dumping them at the side of the road, much like we have seen being done to numerous Yes signs up and down the country in the past few weeks.  My mum, Margaret, still lives in the shadow of the Faslane Base.  Try explaining to a seven year old, right here, right now, in 2014,  what nuclear weapons are, and that they are stored and carried just a few miles from your Granny’s house, to really get the referendum debate into perspective. In fact, I’d pretty happily use that as the yardstick for any indyref question:  Mummy, why do so many people need foodbanks when other people are so rich?  Mummy, why do some people not care about others?  Mummy, what do M.Ps actually do down there in London?  I’d pay good money to see anyone from Better Together give a face to face answer to my daughter’s questions.  And all of this comes from my Dad.  He was a man full of integrity, a belief in justice and the strength of character to act upon such beliefs.  He instilled in me these values, and as we near the end of this referendum journey, I hope I am doing the same with my two children.  And is this not what we would all want for our generations to come?  Why on earth would we not want our children and our children’s children to grow up confident enough in themselves and their place in the world to go out and shape it as they see fit?  And to do that by staying, by living here, in Scotland, not having to emigrate south for the chance of a better life, knowing that their democratic rights actually count for something?  How can we do that by voting ‘no’ on the 18th? A no vote says we are incapable of all this.  Explain that to my seven year old. Look your children in the eye and say ‘no’ to hope.

My Dad was a great lover of the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid and one of his favourite poems was ‘The Little White Rose’, encapsulating as it does the essence of both my dad’s love for, and exasperation with, his country and its journey to reclaiming sovereignty and independence.

The rose of all the world is not for me.

I want for my part

Only the little white rose of Scotland

That smells sharp and sweet –  and breaks the heart

It breaks my heart that he’s not here to see this, to mark his ballot paper and enjoy this fizzing hope we have all created.  I do, however, have him to thank for all of this, that we are here, now, with the amazing chance to actually DO something about it, to shake the complacency of the political elite to their very core, to create a new national reality, to just cross a box and say that most affirming of words: yes.

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arrested development

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 How family-friendly is career development? How female-friendly is it?  The culture of professional development in my sector, education, and my experience of it, has me in a bit of a tizzy at the moment.   Professional development, whether for career advancement  or to improve practice, too often appears to be at the expense of any reasonable work-life balance or sense of anything else being important.  I’ve been in middle-management for ten years and can count on one hand the number of really, truly life-changing CPD events I have been to – in fact, make that two fingers!  However, the most frequent CPD meetings I have been to over the past seven years have been ‘recce’ meetings for those interested in pursuing the Scottish Qualification for Headship (SQH), a qualification judged a pre-requisite for anyone serious about going above middle-management. At the first of these, we were presented with several teachers who had gone through the course and while they all spoke positively of it, they also all emphasised, big style, the huge commitment the course took.  This was done with an almost perverse sense of pride – the “I was so busy I didn’t see my kids at weekends for a whole year” challenge set as a marker of the value of the course and the ‘specialness’ of those who had gone through it.  That meeting finished with the development officer stating that this course was “not to be taken on if anyone was planning anything important like starting a family”.  Given we were just planning to start our family, that was my cue to leave and forget all about SQH for several years.

After our first child was born, I went along again, to see if there was any change in the set-up of the qualification or the assumption that all life would stop while you were doing the course.  Nope, no such luck.  Now this was starting to rankle.  What was so wrong with this course that you were expected to give up everything to complete it?  And was no-one else wondering the same thing?  After my return to work the second time, I went along again (glutton for punishment), with encouragement from my Senior Management Team, only to be met with more of the same.  Was I being too perverse about this in questioning the set-up if it so obviously excludes a balanced life?  We are meant to be teaching our children to be ‘successful learners’ , ‘confident individuals’  ‘effective contributors’ and ‘responsible citizens’ but what about our staff? Where is the recognition from the CPD coordinators, academics and leadership development officers of staff routes to successful learning?  I am sure there are plenty of women out there like me who are totally committed to and enthusiastic about their jobs, but hey, guess what?  We’re even more so to and about our families.  And when we are repeatedly told that the best (the only?) thing for our career advancement is to commit so much time and energy to a course or qualification that we’ll have no life outside it for two, three or more years, I start to think there’s something wrong with the course design.  It is unintentional, I’m sure (or just plain ignorant?) but excludes nonetheless.   I have no problem with commitment, but not at the expense of the social and family time needed to raise our two children.  If we in Scotland are serious about a progressive, confident and equal society, we need to make sure our paths to development are flexible and open to all.  Academic study and career development need to be much more family-friendly, and to value, recognise and reward the rich experiences we have in the work place.  All the SQH programme needs is more flexibility, the chance to do it part-time and to value the skills our working mothers and fathers will bring to it. All or nothing is not good – it’s too one-dimensional, too restrictive. It’s time we stepped away from the Scottish love of dichotomy and truly embraced a more pluralistic view of ourselves and the world.

She’s gonna do it all…

Another photo, another beach!  So many of our family days and memories are spent and made on beaches.  What is it about them that so draws us to them, regardless of weather?  Our children would happily spend all day every day at a beach, all the better if it has some secret paths and sand dunes to roam in and a few wee rock pools for guddling about in.  Give them a stretch of sand and water, be it cruel grey, tormented by wind and rain, or the ever-so-occassional golden sun and summer breeze, they can spend endless hours playing the most imaginative, creative and wholly fantastical games ever, much to their enjoyment and our amusement.  The creative energy of children is amazing – there are no rules limiting what they come up with and how they make sense of the world around them.  But at some point in time, that seems to fade – I don’t believe it ever disappears entirely, but let’s face it, all too often our adult selves are bound by those very constraints children ignore in their play.  I’ve just finished reading Ian MacEwan’s novel “The Child in Time” (written in 1987) and the parallel stories of the child lost, stuck in time, contrasted with the successful adult desperate to go back to childish simplicity, are striking.  I work with teenagers, a job I value deeply and enjoy hugely, but sometimes trying to get their latent creative and imaginative sparks going is hard work, and even a wee bit uncool for some.  We seem to be surrounded by a world which demands analysis, synthesis, interpretation, at the expense of the playful and creative.  The Scottish singer – songwriter Karine Polwart has a lovely song which to my mind sums up the energy, enthusiasm and confidence I’d like my children, (and my pupils!), to have.  What, or more importantly, how do we want our children to be?  Healthy and happy, of course.  Not too materialistic?  Non-judgemental?  Insightful?  Playful?  And how to we go about realising that potential, harnessing that bright assuredness and inventive playfulness?  The lyrics to the song are simple but strong and full of great imagery – the Scottish ‘fish tea’ in Biblical proportions is such a lovely thought!  My daughter is nearly six, and is full of such playfulness and story making, and I wish her everything this song contains.

I’m Gonna Do It All

I’m gonna sail right out on the Atlantic
I’m gonna catch me a fish that’s bigger thangigantic
I’m gonna cook up a fine fish tea
It will be like some kind of Galilee
I’m gonna do it all some day

CHORUS
I’m gonna do it all some day
I’m gonna do it all some day
You may not believe a word I say
But I tell you I’m gonna do it all some day

I’m gonna climb way over that old mountain
I’m gonna shout in a place where no-one hears me shouting
I’m gonna swear so loud
I’ll strip the silver lining from a cloud
I’m gonna do it all some day

CHORUS

I’m gonna fly in a silver winged space rocket
I’m gonna pick out the stars and put them in my pocket
I’m gonna bring those stars back down
So I can spread celestial light around
I’m gonna do it all some day

Words: Karine Polwart (Bay Songs Ltd)
Music: Karine Polwart (Bay Songs Ltd) & Steven Polwart(MCPS/PRS)

I’m gonna do it all


Hello Scotland, hello world!

Oran: a song, a melody; Oran mor:  the ‘Great Song of life’; Oran Graham, my wee boy!  I am lucky enough to be able to have a day off in the working week to be with him, take his sister to school, do Mum things, without trying to fit it all in in the weekend.  Today, we danced and danced to lots of different music, some quiet, some jumpy, but all of it definitely fun.  As we spun and birled and jigged and jumped, I had one of those ‘mum-moments’ when I pictured my fair-haired boy as a man, a Scottish man, and all that that would mean.  Would he be part of the early years of an independent land?  What would that look and feel like – to be an integral part of something his parents have spent all their years working for, and their parents before that?  We are in the midst of truly ‘interesting times’ here in Scotland, with debates raging and political sides being drawn over the independence question.  We will be given the chance to make our voices heard in a referendum in 2014, and while we already have the ‘Yes Scotland’ team on one side, and the ‘Better Together’ group on the other, I have been left pretty cold by much of the conversation so far.  It seems to be an awful lot of men (sorry, guys!) talking about business and the economy.  Where are the voices of the women, the sisters and aunties and grannies and mothers of our nation?  Where is the vision for what we want Scotland and her people to be?  I have two young children and what happens in 2014 will affect their lives more so than mine, so I want to look to the bigger picture and make our voices heard, on motherhood and nationhood.