Once Henry and I went up to Aberdeen to take Kathleen out for a meal. To our older eyes, her appearance was slightly shocking
Amonth or two before she was seventeen she was off to Aberdeen to seek her fortune. Lindsay was still living there along with a few of their friends. Richard had not as yet sold his flat and that was where all the fun was. Kathleen loved fun and parties and the company of people her own age. I wasn’t too worried as her ideas were sensible but I worried about the times she was living in.
Kathleen was a very different girl to her sister Mahri. Mahri was quite content to conform to the ways in which I was brought up. Mahri wanted to be protected by the family. Kathleen did not.
“Mum, don’t you dare come and collect me from the disco,” she would say. “I’ll just die of embarrassment if you do! I’ll get a taxi. Don’t worry, I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.”
Kathleen was an independent girl, truly of the new generation. Before she left for Aberdeen I tried to instil into her some of my values but knowing all the time that she would have to go, to a certain extent, her own way.
I was well aware that revolution by the young was nothing new. It had been going on since time began. I had revolted against some of my mother’s ideas.
My mother hadn’t wanted me to go in for nursing, which she considered too menial a task for her daughter.
I argued endlessly over racism or any divisions in society, everyone was equal and in some areas things had improved. I had welcomed my mother’s modem ideas. “There is nothing a women can’t do, there is no such word as can’t in the dictionary,” she had always said.
How many artists, writers, composers or scientists had been lost to the world because of taboos on women doing anything outside the home?
However, with the advent and easy availability of the contraceptive pill, it seemed to me that what had been a gradual liberation of women had taken a step too far.
The more and more common occurrence of young men and women living together unmarried came late to the farms and villages and was difficult for the older generation to accept.
It seemed to be an erosion of all the principles we held most dear. Now with the pill, no longer need the woman be left holding the baby. She was truly liberated. “Like men” it was said, but what was freedom? Were men free?
“Shades of the prison house begin to close upon the growing boy.”
The words of Wordsworth ran through my head. In my view the family was the most important institution – the building block of society. Now the family was becoming secondary.
“What work do you do?” was asked of women. “Look after the family”, for women of independent mind, was not the correct answer.
Kathleen did find it difficult in Aberdeen. It was very difficult to find work without specific qualifications but eventually she found a job in community education, getting young girls off the streets and into clubs.
Once Henry and I went up to Aberdeen to take her out for a meal. To our older eyes, her appearance was slightly shocking. She was wearing all the modern gear with her hair wild and uncombed, as was the fashion at the time.
“Why don’t girls make the best of their looks, not the worst of them?” I wondered to myself but didn’t say. When questioned about her appearance she said: “I dress how all young people dress today. It reflects a non-conformist attitude.
“Young people are rebelling against being ‘sensible’,” she added.
“Besides, if I dressed differently I would have no rapport with the young people I work with. They wouldn’t trust me.”
After getting a paid occupation, Kathleen’s next ambition was to travel.
“I’ve got a return ticket to Turkey,” she told me one day when she paid one of her brief visits home. Elspeth and I are off next month.” Elspeth was a new friend whom I hadn’t met.
“Oh Katy! Why Turkey and where will you be staying?”
“I dunno,” she said. “We’ll find somewhere. We’re flying to Daliman.” I mentioned package deals but this was anathema to the young, only for the old, I was told, and that meant anyone over 25, according to Kathleen.
I wasn’t, however, too worried about her travelling ability. Once, when she came with me to see Mahri in Germany, we had nearly been in real difficulty over tickets for the train to take us to the airport.
We ran out of foreign currency and nearly missed our flight. I was much more worried than Kathleen was. “I’ll sort it out, Mum,” she said and did.
As promised I got a postcard from Turkey. “Having a wonderful time; white mountains, brilliantly blue lakes, very eastern and different, you’d love it.”
When she came back I asked a lot of questions. They’d found the people very hospitable and easily found a place to stay.
“But the men, Kathleen?” I asked, having heard of these eastern, warm-blooded types and their relationships with western women who, in their estimation, had fallen low.
“If ever we felt threatened, I developed a nervous twitch in my neck and Elspeth started talking to someone in the sky. They soon thought we were clearly mad and avoided us like the plague.”
Kathleen’s next adventure with her friend Elspeth was to India. This time for a longer stay.
She kind of knew what to expect when she got there, having listened to her brother Ronnie’s experiences, but she was horrified, just the same, at how the poor had to live.
She learned of things that were almost inconceivable to her, having been brought up in a secure home.
How it had been the custom, and still was practised to an extent, for widows to be thrown out of their homes often with their children.
Sometimes life was so desperate for them that they sold their children cheaply to people who maimed them and used them as beggars.
Kathleen told me how different life was for the youngsters she was in charge of.
“Last time I took them to the pictures they moaned and groaned because I was delayed by traffic and was five minutes late.”
“You should have told them that in India they would have been sold for less than the price of mutton.”
“Aw, Mum,” she said in her ‘you just don’t understand’ kind of voice.”
More on Monday.