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About Me: An Interesting Life So Far

Updated on May 24, 2020

Autobiography of a travelling Scot

I turned 62 in May, started collecting my pension and became an old age pensioner. So it is time to look back, just to see the journey from there to here.

It started in a small Scottish market town in Angus, called Kirriemuir. Our only claim to fame - it is the birthplace of J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.

The youngest of three children, I grew up in post war years, rationing still fresh in the memory and war still close enough to be influential in our outlook. In many ways, it was a much simpler life than now.

I became a nurse in 1968, trained as an RGN and midwife and later as a complementary therapist is various disciplines. In my time I have been a tour guide in Japan, a librarian in Dubai, an aid worker in Albania, Kosvo and Tanzania, a post-mistress, a retailer, a therapist and goodness knows what else. This is my journey. So far!

All the images used here are from my personal albums

Graduation Dundee 1973
Graduation Dundee 1973

Sweet Sixteen

'Out of the nest'

With youthful innocence, I came home from school on my 16th birthday, buoyed up by the fact that O level exams were over, to find my mother had arranged for me to start work as a nursing orderly at Meigle Cottage Hospital. My mother had worked there during the Second World War with the present Matron. I had had my sights on university, I didn't want to be a nurse, but it was not to be and I didn't even think of argueing about it. Looking back I was very young, nowhere near ready to leave the nest. I think that was probably the worst thing for me, leaving home. The hospital was about an hour away so I had to live in.

I worked at Meigle for eighteen months until I started my nurse training in Dundee. I was supposed to be among those first class of nurses trained and working at the new Ninewells, state of the art, hospital. However, I had been trained for three years and been a staff nurse at Dundee Royal Infirmary for a year before Ninewells opened, a fact I am eternally grateful for. DRI was a beautiful old Victorian building with Nightingale wards: long rows of beds on eight side of the ward, in single sex wards. Ninewells mixed wards with small bays would not have suited me at all.

wedding day
wedding day

Married and Divorced

Life as a travelling wife

I met my future husband at a disco called Laings in my third year of training and I married in 1974 instead of going on with friends to train as a midwife in Stirling. The week after we were married, Derek and I moved to Zambia where he had a job working as an engineer having graduated from Dundee University.

There are so many things I remember about that time, not least the hugely painful farewell to my dad.

The first few months in Zambia were hard. Not only was I adapting to married life, but to a completely different culture where, as a white woman, I was in the minority for the first time in my life. With a confirmed hippy mentality of going over there to help, and to live with my oppressed brothers ( complete with my folk guitar) I discovered my brothers had no need, and did not want my help or indeed my interference. Once I got over myself and settled in, I loved it.

I couldn't get a nursing job until a work permit came through so I spent several weeks at a local primary school teaching lovely 7 year olds to speak English with a Scottish accent. Not having much command of their language of Bemba, I relied a lot on pictures and songs and had them lining up to join my class. It all went rather well apart from the day they all tried to eat the plasticine I had brought in.

My first nursing job in Zambia was in a miner's hospital and health centre. Chibiluma was a copper mine and the company provided health care for their employees and their families. I started in the hospital, acting as relief for someone on a 3 month home leave, then I moved down the road to the outpatient clinic which also had a midwife delivery suite. It was incredible experience, teaching me skills far beyond anything a nurse might encounter in the UK or USA. In those days, long before anyone heard of nurse practitioners, I was diagnosing and prescribing for a huge number of minor and common complaints.

Derek was moved to another mine eighteen months later and I reluctantly had to leave and join a health service hospital in Ndola. It was back to a huge, slightly impersonal hospital, but I was soon assigned to the School of Nursing as a tutor. In a country such as Zambia, young girls were given into our care totally for the duration of their training. We supervised their homework, acted as counsellors and ensured their safety both morally and physically as well as teaching them. When I left, my girls wrote and sang a beautiful song for me in at least six part harmony. One thing I will always remember about Zambia is the music and completely untrained singing. My office was above the mortuary and daily I was entertained by mourners singing.

We travelled home via Kenya where I got my first taste of cheese in three years, then onto Malta and home to live with Derek's parents for a short time while we waited for his next job to start.

By this time Derek was working for an oil company supervising various projects. We were sent to Hull. Kingston Upon Hull, as is it is more properly called, is in Yorkshire and we had to look it up on a map to find out where it was. It is a large industrial city that has seen better days but, like many, is undergoing regeneration these days.

I worked first of all in the Royal Infirmary in Outpatients before deciding, now was the time to do that midwifery training. Unlike in America, UK trained midwifes are practitioners in their own right taking on responsibility for all normal births, pre-natal and anti-natal care.

Hedon Road Maternity Hospital was a cottage-hospital type place with wards in different buildings, a much more comfortable and friendly place than the towering impersonal concrete of Hull Royal Infirmary. Despite its appearance, it was the major centre for Obstetrics for the whole of the region and we had the chance to see a huge number of normal and abnormal births. Sadly it has been demolished since then.

I loved the training. For me it was much more academic than my general training had been and for the first time I got to really stretch and exercise my brain. I wanted more. Perhaps I could train as a tutor in midwifery?

Well, not yet. Derek was working in the United Arab Emirates and I went out to join him in Dubai for several months. We lived in a wonderful apartment complex attached to the Hyatt Regency and I ran a library for the occupants. It was a great time, Dubai in those days was one of the more liberal Arab states - I was allowed to drive and I could even wear tee shirts!

Just before Christmas I injured my pelvis in a fall that had me flat on my back for weeks. I was devastated when the company would not let me move with Derek to another Emirate and I came home to Hull on my own. Uncertain when the job in the Middle East was going to end, I did some work for a nursing agency but still, I wanted more.

But not yet. Derek was given a promotion we could not refuse which involved moving temporarily to Norway where he was to supervise a huge construction project for an off-shore oil accommodation platform for a Norwegian oil company. We spent that first winter in a flat in the south of Norway near Arundal. It was a bit like living in wooden box given that walls and ceiling were all tongue-and-groove pine, but it was an experience.

Given the time frame and the language difference, I couldn't get a job so I concentrated on being a good hostess to the many business associates of my husband's and on writing. I learned to master one of the first home computers (do you remember the bbc computers) where you had to set your own programmes. I can remember endless afternoons entering long lists of hmtl, only to find it didn't work. Thankfully we have come a long way since then.

The preliminary states finished, we went to Japan to supervise the preparation of the steel for the accommodation platform. So at that time I had clothes in the house in Hull, more in a small villa in Spain we had just bought, winter gear in Norway and I was living in Japan. I couldn't take my computer to Japan so I spent the next six months writing long-hand, including letters to home and friends that I am presently compiling into a book.

Japan is an amazing country. It's culture is completely different from our own although much of it is Americanized now. I think it was the first time I experienced culture shock - there was little to recognise not even what sign represented a toilet so it took some getting used to.

We lived in a hotel in Osaka which was very comfortable, if a little limiting. I was fascinated by the culture and with my love of history could not get enough information. I was to find that the information given out is limited to what the Japanese want to share, and the only books in English I could find were less history books than guide books. However, that did not stop me from soaking in everything around me including near-by Kyoto and Nara. I was lucky enough then to act as a tour guide to these ancient places for visitors. I think it was in Japan that I began to really enjoy photography although with old-fashioned camera and film I was never proficient.

From Japan we moved back to Norway just in time for another winter. This time we were located far in the north, further north than Trondiem which is the nearest city to the Arctic circle I believe. It was beautiful. We lived in a lovely wood house overlooking a ffjord. Downstairs once the snow set in, was a cosy snug with malachite fireplace that I could fill with logs and snuggle in with my writing and my computer. Once again my main responsibility was to act as the dutiful wife and ideal hostess.

The job finished, the platform put into use with great publicity and hoohaa, we returned to Hull. Where next?

We had done a lot of travelling for pleasure as well as business, visiting many Far East countries, more African ones, Egypt, much of Europe and the USA and Canada, but I was homesick for Scotland. I think Scots have a unique sense of place that is something to do with the land, with the culture, the history, the music, the art and inventiveness and ingenuity of the people. Derek, however, was immune.

He was sent to headquarters in London. At first I went down with him during the week and we came home at weekends. It was fun to visit the shows, see all the usual tourist-type places and soak up the atmosphere, but, for me, it palled very quickly until my 'weeks' in London became shorter and my 'weekends' at home in Hull, longer.

With Derek on an indefinite timetable, I decided now was a good time to take some college courses, so I that is what I did. I studied for A levels and once again got hooked on academic learning. Derek's next posting was off-shore with one month away and one month home. I got used to him not being there and actually began to resent the time he was home. I was fully committed to study and was looking forward to getting enough qualifications to be accepted at university.

The off-shore job finished, Derek was sent to work in Newcastle and fortunately for me I was able to stay in Hull to finish my college courses. This time it was home during the week and up to Newcastle at the weekends and I tried to get out of those as much as possible. Derek's job there didn't last long and once again he was sent off-shore.

By this time the marriage was in real trouble and it was hard to see how to save it. I wanted to go home to Scotland and to have a family, Derek wanted neither and eventually we separated. I can't say it was an easy time or what would have happened if he had simply agreed to live in Scotland or even to allow me to attend university in Scotland.

graduation day
graduation day

Of all the countries I have lived in which would you like to visit?

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St Andrews and Beyond

Life as a mature student at the University of St Andrews

I remember watching Songs of Praise on TV from St Andrews presented by Sir Harry Secombe. I think I fell in love with it immediately and became determined to attend university there. I was delighted to be offered a place a the University of St Andrews which at that time was the fourth most prestigious university in Britain, beaten only by Oxford, Cambridge and Durham. ( I think it is now 6th).

St Andrews in very much a university town. There is no set campus as such, instead the whole town is peppered with academic buildings, many of them dating back centuries and build from stone farmed from the ruined cathedral.

In Scotland you study three subjects in your first year, three in your second year. You then have the option of taking a third year of general study for an ordinary degree or picking a speciality and going on for a further two years for an honours degree. I graduated top of my class with an Honours degree in history and managed to secure one of only 4 scholarships for further study. I loved every single second of my four undergraduate years. So much so, I went onto study for a PhD. I was also working as a part time tutor at the University of Dundee in the department of modern history and travelling daily from my home in Crail to Edinburgh - about an hour each way.

With my divorce settlement I had bought a two-storey house in Crail, ten miles south of St Andrews. It was an old house, the first brick-built house in Crail, built from bricks produced locally. It had a lot wrong with it: it oozed damp and had woodworm in every room. With the help of a friend and his brother, I put in a new bathroom downstairs, blocked off the corridor and put in a kitchen upstairs. Nicely divided into two flats with individual front doors, I eventually sold the upstairs flat to another post-graduate student who had rented it from me while he was studying in St Andrews. The money kept me going throughout this time.

Life was taking a toll. My mother and father had both died. I think I never had time to properly mourn for them or for the death of my marriage. My work schedule was brutal and I was on my own. While I was an undergraduate, I'd had a lot of friends but once they graduated they all moved away, and I found I didn't actually know anyone locally. I broke. I had a mental breakdown and it was at this time it was discovered I actually had bi-polar disorder.

I had to give up my PhD, but by this time it had become apparent that I would never manage to get a job as a lecturer which had been my aim. There were and continue to be a huge number of talented and younger people also looking for the work. So I needed to find a new direction.

It came unexpectedly when I walked into a tiny shop that sold crystals. It opened my eyes to the world of complimentary health and I went on to train as a crystal therapist, a reflexologist and reiki master. Like many people, it was the discovery of holistic health that helped me heal and for several years I had a holistic centre and shop.

By this time my shop was in Crail and was dependent on summer visitors for most of its business, so when the Post Office in Crail came up for sale I thought it was an ideal. In my mind, in the summer the business would boom from the visitors and all year I would have the income from the Post Office to rely on. It didn't actually work out that way. The crystals didn't do well in the Post Office and I had not known that Post Office business was in dramatic decline. When the Post Office failed I was forced to sell.

For three years I worked as a practice nurse at our local health centre so I had come full circle. Surely that was my lot. But no, life had another curve ball for me when I had another nervous breakdown. I had done relief work in both Kosovo and Tanzania and coming home from a heartbreaking experience in Tanzania and pressure at work, I couldn't maintain my mental health and I had to retire.

And so to my latest move. I came to Yorkshire to live near friends, people I had met 30 odd years ago in Hull. Carol and Geoff are my family, giving me all the love and support one would expect from family and although I miss Scotland, I am settled and I have a life here. I have discovered a talent for photography. With all the advantages of the digital world, I am learning and developing, and at last feel as if I have reached my final career combining photography with writing. It has been a long and often painful journey but this is what has made me the woman I am.

How to write you memoirs

© 2010 Ann


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