Poets Patriots And Self Taught Socialists The Women Who Have Shaped My Life

Hey everyone For those who may not know yesterday was International Women’s Day. Now contrary to what some people may think, this is not a day to hate men but to celebrate ourselves and that we are and commemorate women’s achievements in every walk of life.

It is with this in mind I decided to write a post on the many women who have inspired me during the course of my life so far. Some of my choices will be known to you whilst will not, however make no mistake of those named will have earned their place on my list. I hope you find it an interesting and thought provoking read.

The problems with lists like this is where you do you start? Personally I’ve always thought that the beginning was the best place to start a journey so let me start with the first major influence in life, her name was Jessie MacDonald Robertson which would eventually change to Russell and she was my maternal grandmother

Born in 1891 she was 70 three months before I was born. In my gran’s day you left at 12 or whenever you attained the fifth standard which in her case was at the age of 9. Yes seriously my gran was a 9 year old school leaver as she had been taught as much as working class children were allowed to be in late Victorian Britain.

A self taught socialist who valued education and learning it was she who first noted my interest in history, poetry, and traditional music. Indeed she encouraged my interests in all aspects of Scottish and Irish Culture. If I’m honest you could say that she was the single biggest influence in shaping my political beliefs.

A lifelong supporter of Scottish independence she was always keen to stress that this was not because she hated England but because she hated the Westminster system of inherited wealth and privilege which was she said based on patronage and was the beast from which so-called lords and ladies claimed their power to rule over ordinary people. Like me she wanted a socialist Scotland and a country where all people would be treated with fairness and respect.

My next woman of influence was my high school English teacher Elizabeth Dowling. It was Mrs Dowling who really encouraged my interest in poetry and literature introducing me to the work of Glasgow based poets such as Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead, and Tom Leonard, the war poets such as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Siegfried Sassoon and novelists such as Joan Lingaurd and John Steinbeck. It was this magical teacher who really got me to explore my own creativity and start the journey to find my own voice. Well I’ve always been an independent woman with a mind of my own

Talking of independence, as someone who has always the political independence for my nation, some people who view politics like a football match and think you can’t have friends in opposing parties or respect people who believe in the UK may be surprised to learn that one of my earliest political influences has never been in my party or supported an independent Scotland. I have to say however, and let me be very clear about this, I have great admiration for former Liberal Democrat candidate for Maryhill at both parliamentary and local council elections Elspeth Attwool. I learned much from Elspeth during my early years as a community activist and she was far more respected than the local Labour councillor who was living proof that dinosaurs existed far longer than previously thought. A woman who cared and still cares passionately for both her community and her country Elspeth Attwool is thoroughly deserving of her place on this list.

Next up is a woman who taught me to believe in myself and took my interest in creative writing to new heights. A woman who was not only a writing tutor at Govan Writers Group but became a valued friend. Linda McCann was amongst the first people I confided in about my trans identity and not only that she kept that ‘secret’ for as long as she needed to, and one day slipped me a wee surprise present. It was a stunning crimson taffita dress which if memory serves me well was a size 10. Alas it is a long time since I was able to slip in to a size 10 but I did get my wear out of it before it reached the charity shop but I still remember that act of kindness on a wet windy Thursday afternoon in Govan. Linda taught me to have confidence in my words and to remember that the best writing comes from your own personal experience and writing about what you know is always more powerful than writing what you think others want to hear. An authentic voice always comes across better than someone who is trying to be popular she said and you know what,she was right in what she said.

Still on the subject of writing, in 1993 I made a decision to go to a monthly performance poetry night on the First Monday of the month. This would eventually have a dramatic effect on my life as I would eventually end up comparing the night it had taken straight talking former squaddie Jim Craig a year to persuade me to attend. The night I refer to is of course is Words And Music at Sammy Dow’s or as I sometimes call it the poetry family table. It was at this venue that I met a woman who was is and ever shall be like a poetry mum to so many of us the one and only Pamela Duncan. When Pamela decides to grace the stage I often introduce as the first lady of Sammy’s though modesty forbids her from accepting the accolade no matter how well deserved it is. An award winning writer and poet, a freelance journalist, a trophy winning golfer and also a novelist and former chair of Eastwood Writers Pamela Duncan is without doubt one of the most talented women I know and not only that she is a woman who inspires others to be the best they can be.

My next selection is another poet though she comes from more performance based tradition than Pamela. The poet concerned like Pamela has more than one string to her bow and is also a respected comedienne on the Scottish and UK stand up circuits. I first got to know Viv Gee during the late 1990’s when she hosted Sunday Rhymes at Bar Brel. It was during my time at Sunday Rhymes that I started dipping my toe in the water with regards to my trans identity and the support I received from Viv was nothing short of brilliant. Honestly she was totally amazing and could not have been more supportive during what were difficult days for me. Yes I know it may be hard to believe but I wasn’t always the confident self-assured wee madam I am now.
When I talk of inspirational women there is no way I can leave out a woman of courage, stature, and principal. A woman who have always been convinced will one day lead this country and lead it to greatness. She is a woman combines the best elements of both patriotism and pragmatism and sets her vision for our nation on the founding rock of principle I refer to the woman who makes me believe in our country more with every speech she makes.

This is the woman who in my book and I don’t care how biased I am is Scotland’s National Princess. The woman who is Our Deputy First Minister and the most popular politician in the country. The one and only Nicola Sturgeon. I have known Nicola for more years than I care to forget and I know that Scotland is a lucky nation to have someone so dedicated to serving our people with honesty integrity and fairness.

From politics I go back to the world of poetry for my next inspirational woman though I have noticed that Jenny Lindsay is getting just a wee bit political these days and saying yes to imagining a better Scotland free from the chains and constraints of Westminster rule. I first met Jenny ten years ago in 2004 at my first ever poetry slam since when she has been a friend, mentor, and confident who like Viv Gee supported me in every decision I had to make. Articulate intelligent and the voice of a new Scotland Jenny Lindsay will I predict become one of the biggest names in Scottish culture in the years and decades to come. I say this with confidence as Scotland is now finding out what I already know Jenny is a woman of talent and substance who like an already good wine can only get better with age. Well poets do you know, and for someone who is already is so good it is actually frightening it doesn’t take a genius to forecast a brilliant future.

There are other who writers also merit a mention as no list of women writers who have influenced me would be complete without acknowledging the contributions of my chosen wee sister and confidant Catherine Baird and a woman whom I have long regarded as my mentor the amazingly talented Ann Connolly. I also want to thank the excellent Sophia Walker for all her encouragement over a number of years, the new kid on the poetry block the highly lovable Agnes Torok, and the greatest force of nature I have ever seen on any stage the brilliant and breathtaking Sophia Blackwell.

The world of traditional music has many powerful voices at this time in it’s history and many of it’s rising stars are women. One only has to look to at the likes of Anna Meldrum of Kitty The Lion, Karine Polwart and Lori Watson to prove my point. However brilliant though they are the names which inspire me on this scene are Eilidh Grant and Rachel Sermanni.

Both of these rising stars inspire me for very different reasons. In the case of Eilidh she has such a beautiful lyrical quality to her voice that she is in my opinion our nation’s princess of song. A big title for someone so modest but make no mistake this accolade is richly deserved. Evidence to support my case is provided by Eilidh’s dad the well respected folk musician Eric Grant who told me a story of the daughter he described as the encourager. Eilidh was always kind he said god knows I have personal experience of just how true that statement is but a proud dad told me that when they were younger he would take Eilidh and her younger brother Stephen to folk festivals and competitions all across the country and no matter how well she had done, Eilidh’s first concern was always her wee brother and if he had won in his category there would be no happier or prouder big sister in the world. Now that is what you call the mark of quality and being an inspiration to others by your actions and not just your words.
Rachel Sermanni is another inspiration whose star is on the rise. Rachel is not only a brilliant singer/songwriter whose concerts sell out wherever she appears,she is also is a very talented artist and poet. A multi talented young woman blessed with many fantastic gifts, Rachel inspires me because like Eilidh she manages to keep her feet on the ground and is a very genuine woman, she is I as often say very much the real deal.

On the subject of the real deals you won’t get a better deal than a partnership that really works one of such partnership is local photography business KK Snaps which is co-owned by my current woman of the year Katie Walker. Katie is a highly intelligent and astute young women and her business which she co-owns with her best friend Kirsty Hughes should be an inspiring story to all young women everywhere that if you want something badly enough and have the courage to chase your dreams you can actually achieve them.

Other inspiring woman to me include Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson for her work on behalf of women and girls particularly with regards to positive body image. Glasgow SNP councillor Alison Thewliss for showing the world that young women can be politically active whilst also raising a family and that you do not need to put your political career on hold till later. Former SNP MSP Anne McLaughlin for her work with Glasgow’s African and Caribbean communities and her dedication to empowering those communities through her at Glasgow African-Caribbean Centre. Young Liberal Democrat activist Sophie Bridger for her work with Scotland’s LGBT Communities. I also include recent SNP candidate in the Cowdenbeath By-election Natalie McGarry. One of the key voices I the Women for Independence movement Shona McAlpine who resigned from the SNP over the issue of NATO membership. Also the fantastic poet and feminist activist Claire Askew for defending the rights of women everywhere and for ceaselessly campaigning for trans equality not forgetting organising the first and so far only all female poetry slam ever to take place in Scotland and the brilliant Kate Higgins without whose inspiration I would never have started blogging and Caron Lindsay and Ellen Arnison for much valued support and advice in my quest become a better blogger.

Last but not least I have to say a massive thanks to my best friend of the last 14 years and my flatmate for 12 of those years the lovely Janette Marshall. I sometimes wonder my life would have been like had I not met Janette, and whilst I have no doubt I would be a lot saner than is currently the case I think I would not have so many good times or such a rich quality of life and the entertainment value would have been nowhere as much as it has been Janette is without a doubt the wee sister I never had and my life is a better place because she is in it.

So there you have my selection of women who have made my journey through life just a wee bit more interesting than it otherwise would have been. To them and to all of us I say I hope you had a happy international women’s day
As for me I just hope in some way I may just have inspired some girl to believe in herself and her dreams.

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X


3 thoughts on “Poets Patriots And Self Taught Socialists The Women Who Have Shaped My Life

  1. simply brilliant. Liked it… i am now following your blog for more than 2 months. most of your posts are simple fantastic. Check out mine.. sachinmanan.wordpress.com… pls share your feedback

  2. Hello Gayle, Could you please tell me a bit more about the Govan Writers Group? Where does it take place and is it still on going? Thank you,

    • Hey Callum I was a member of Govan Writers Group for three years from March 1992 to September 1995 when I left to attend a full time BA Honours course at the University of Strathclyde from which I graduated with 2/2 Joint Honours Degree in Geography and Politics in June 1999. I do not think there is a writers group in Govan at the moment but now having been made redundant from my job as an equality trainer I would be willing to set one up if there was enough interest from aspiring writers who wished to develop their creative writing talents.

      Best Wishes
      Gayle X

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