Interview with Iona McGregor

Q: Ellen Galford
A: Iona McGregor
Location: Comely Bank Street

(Begins mid-sentence.)
A: ' well, I did get a job up here in the School of Scottish Studies, because I've been very interested in Scottish literature and Edinburgh Scottish literature particularly, so I was taken on as a sub-editor at the ' on the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue in 19 ' I think that must have been 1952.

Q: Do you mind my asking how old you were then?
A: No, not at all. I would have been twenty-three, twenty-four. Twenty-two to twenty-three, depending on which time of year I came.

Q: But you did have Scottish connections?
A: Oh, yes. My father's family belonged to St Andrews. I mean, his mother was still alive, my granny. In fact, she lived until I ' until 1973. And I visited her a lot as a child, with my family, because when he came back from defending the British Empire my father was posted to the Queen Victoria School in Dunblane which is quite near St Andrews. So we used to visit her there a lot. And we'd also' I'd been up ' Towards the end of the war, when I was still at school, I'd gone to stay with my grandmother because I was at boarding school and my family at the very end of the war moved abroad because my father moved from the army to BAOR, you know, the administrative side of the occupation of Germany. So I spent a lot of time with my grandmother there. So I had these connections and I continued throughout my student career to go and stay with my grandmother in the vacations at St Andrews because my family were involved in Germany. So, yes.

Q: And at what point did you feel I am not as other girlies?
A: Oh, about the age of eight, I think.

Q: What were the particular clues?
A: Well, I passionately wanted to be a boy. So perhaps I should have qualified as a transgender person at that stage. My grandmother in St Andrews used to take in students. She was what was known then as a bunk wife. And one of her students was a medical student called Walter Alexander, who subsequently became the speaker of the House of Commons in Rhodesia. This is before independence. And he and his brother went out there. I should say my father's family are Catholic, Roman Catholic, so there was a very strong inclination to take Roman Catholic students, and he used to come back to Britain or Scotland rather, every so often. I'm talking before the war, of course. And he always used to send us a box of grapes every winter ' we used to receive from Dr Walter Alexander. And he visited. And on one occasion - I was a great tomboy, I had never had any dolls, it was always lead soldiers and tanks and this sort of thing, and my father, of course, was teaching at this military school in Dunblane - and he spoke to me in front of my parents about the fact that there were operations available to change little girls into little boys, which was very, very daring for the late-thirties. So, every night after that I used to pray to god to transplant a penis onto me, because my mother said, 'Faith could move mountains.' And I thought, 'If God can move mountains, he could surely, you know, do this.' But I don't really know whether ' I still can't decide whether I was genuinely transgender or ' Really, it was the awful role of women and seeing my mother and other army wives so sort of knotted and confined to their husbands' role that ' But, anyway, I certainly objected what appeared to be, you know, the feminine role at that time. And I think, really, I had these feelings until I met the feminist movement, you know.

Q: And around when did you make that move?
A: Well, I suppose, when I came to Edinburgh. Not ' for the second time, not the first time. Though I did have contacts with gay people in my first ' during the fifties.

Q: When did it sort of dawn that there were ' okay, you were different, that the possibility of a lesbian identity existed? What ' ?
A: Well, the lesbian identity existed for me from quite an early stage because I was a very literate child and, you know, I had a good classical education and so on. So I knew about Sappho, etcetera, etcetera. And, during the time I was actually working in the late-fifties with the School of Scottish Studies I was sent to research various documents. Well, not documents. I mean printed documents, obviously, and Acts of the Scottish Parliament and so on, because we dealt only with Scots up till 1707, you know, Medieval period and then up to 1707. And when I was supposed to be researching the Acts of Parliament in the National Library, part of the time I was reading ' (illegible remarks) out of which at that period all the illustrations had been torn - even in the National Library. So I knew a lot. I acquired quite a lot of knowledge, intellectual knowledge, about it, but very, very little social contact because all the people, gay people, I met in the fifties were gay men and, of course, they were of this very, very camp generation. You know something quite, quite different from the gay identity ' the male gay identity nowadays. I did actually meet two gay women, but they were having a terrible time in Edinburgh. They were on their way to Singapore.

Q: And when did you first begin to sort of feel that you'd networked? You know, that you became ' part of it all?
A: Oh, it was very, very late. I mean, I was isolated for years and years and years -even after I had my first relationship, because the woman I was with for twelve years just didn't want to have anything to do with what was then the growing gay movement in the south of England, because by that time I was in the south of England.

Q: And what period are we talking about?
A: That that would be the sixties, because at the end of the fifties I went down to London. It was quite obvious that I wasn't going to meet anybody or any culture, gay culture, for women anyway in Edinburgh. I mean, Edinburgh in the late-fifties was, well, you know, it was another universe from what Edinburgh is now. So I went down to London and I did manage to get myself ' Well, I had some very strange adventures on my own. I took ' I found where the Gateways was, but just as I was about to enter a man shouted out across the road, 'That's right, dear. First on the left.' And I was so terrified, I just turned back, you know. But I did, in fact, run into one of my Edinburgh boyfriends - I use boyfriend in the sense he was a gay man, you know - and at a party I met a woman who was an ex-girlfriend of Prince Rainier of Monaco. (Laughter.) Oh, dear. Really! I mean, absolutely absurd. And, so ' anyway, she took me to the Gateways and a sort of very brief fling there. I'm afraid I wasn't very efficient at that stage.

Q: What was your reaction at the Gates?
A: Well, I loved it, but I was ' I was terribly shy, you see, terribly shy. And it was very much the Sister George period, you know. And there was another club near Marble Arch we went to and that was unfortunately full of awful men in blazers who were there to ' You know, tourists. You know the sort of thing.

Q: Yeah.
A: Yes, that was horrid. So, anyway, after that I ' I was actually, I should have said, temping at this time, because I had ' (illegible remark) teaching, but I decided to go back to teaching. I couldn't get a job in London and I went down to Canterbury where I met my true love. But unfortunately, of course, there was terrible social pressure on her, and she couldn't stand it eventually. You know, we were together for twelve years, but after that she just couldn't stand it. And it was, ..., ' By that time, actually, I decided to come back to Edinburgh because the relationship was very fraught. She didn't want to - I mean, not in a personal sense, but in a social sense - because she wanted to have nothing to do with the developing gay scene in London. It was the time of ' when Jackie Forster was just beginning to ' her campaigns and Arena Three and all the rest of it. Which was a very unfortunate time to leave London, actually. It was a great mistake, in fact, but there we are. And, we came up to Edinburgh and we were both teaching. And it really was the fact that she decided she couldn't cope with it any longer. And she in fact returned south. As I said, we'd been together twelve years. ..., and that was when I threw myself into SMG. So this is at the very, very end of the sixties. Wait a minute. Have I got this right? ..., no, the end of the sixties we'd come to Edinburgh and it was sort of on the cusp of the sixties and the seventies when I threw myself into SMG which had just started up.

Q: How did you find them?
A: Well, they had ' they had an advertisement in either The Spectator or The ' What was the other one? It also begins with 's'. The Spectator was very right wing, wasn't it? There's another one.

Q: Was it The New Statesman?
A: Yes, that's right. The New Statesman. They had an ad for SMG so ' I sent a letter to my sister who - with an enclosure - she lived in Suffolk and she was to post it from there. I mean, this shows you the paranoia of the time, because by that time I was back in teaching, you see. And that was how I contacted them.

Q: Can I just backtrack slightly, how did you actually meet your first '?
A: Well, I met her through ' because she was an acquaintance of one of ' She didn't teach in the same school as me. I was teaching in Canterbury at that stage. But one of my colleagues in Canterbury knew this woman and asked me if I'd like to go to her to some evening reception which was the something at the Canterbury Theatre, the local Canterbury Theatre. And she herself was a drama teacher and she was working in liaison with the repertory theatre in Canterbury. So that's how I met her. And I pursued her for two years before she succumbed. You know, so that was '

Q: So when you came back up ' At that stage, SMG ' Were there many women in it?
A: Well, what was happening was that they were about to start a woman's branch in Glasgow. There had been no women in it previously except perhaps Marion Bowles who was trying to, you know, help everybody. I don't know if you've come across her in your research?

Q: No, but I'll ask you about her later.
A: Right. Well, ..., so ' and this was at the presbytery of Father John Breslin. And when ' I mean, I had never actually been to a meeting of gay women as such and really never, never had at all - not ever. And I was terrified. And, of course, I had all these preconceptions in my mind. And I've thought since, you know, well, if someone who was gay who had had a long relationship had these preconceptions, how much worse is it, you know that really straight people have these preconceptions? I mean, one is brainwashed. And I went in and I ' (Coughing.) It sounds terrible now. I really am ashamed of myself. But I sort of had the vision of these huge bus conductresses who were going to leap all over me, you know. I was sort of late thirties/early forties at this stage, early forties I think, and terribly naive still. And I went in and there were three much younger women in miniskirts and one transvestite man in ' in pearls and twinset. (Laughter.) So that was it, you know. And so I had a great sh- ' it was a great cultural shock to me. And we met. I think we met once a week. We didn't do anything else otherwise. But more and more people were coming over from Glasgow. Sorry, from Edinburgh, the east of Scotland. So it was decided to set up a branch in Edinburgh. And that is how the Edinburgh women's SMG set themselves up. Now I should stress I was not the founder of this. There's somebody else who really you ought to speak to, if she'll be willing to speak to, who actually ran the SMG women's group.

Q: Was that Ruth?
A: Yes.

Q: We're '
A: You are?

Q: Well, I'm meeting her.
A: Oh, good. I'm so glad, because I felt I couldn't sort of mention her name or her phone number or anything without her ' permission. But if you've made clear ' Yes, yes, certainly. Ruth is the person you should speak to about the actual, you know, running and so on of SMG and how it developed.

Q: You said ' at one point, I was curious about this, that in order to make the contact, the advert in the Statesmen, it was one of your' you went through one of your sisters address.
A: Yes. I'd got her to post it even to probably what was a box office number. I was so terrified of being '

Q: Did she know what it was?
A: Oh, yes, yes, yes. She is my ' she is good sister.

Q: There's a good sister?
A: This is good sister, yes.

Q: So how out were you to the members of your own family?
A: Well, it's very strange, it's very difficult to explain this in a completely different climate, because I had tried to speak about this to my mother and my father but they were very slippery - particularly my mother. They didn't want to know, and I've always puzzled about this because I have friends and so on who've had great confrontations with their families. You know, 'Never darken my door.,' or perhaps been accepted. But my family were always very, very oblique about this. Well, my parents and the older of my two younger sisters. It's been quite impossible to talk to them. They don't want to know. And I did - I don't want to go into details about this - but after Anne left me I, you know, had quite a sort of rather rackety career and series of affairs. And in one of them, certainly at least, I got myself into very, very deep trouble. And I was very, very worried about this because she was ' had connections with the criminal world. And - I won't mention any names - and I had nobody to speak to. Well, I did. I mean, I had friends by then. But I had some quaint notion that because I knew details about her which would be to her disadvantage to reveal to other people, ..., I was in honour bound to keep them to myself. So I couldn't speak to these friends who knew both of us. And I tried to speak to my parents. And, something very strange had happened which ' I mean, I could tell you, but not in connection with this project. And my father said, 'You have your, you have your foot on her neck - stamp on it!' That was all he said. My mother said absolutely nothing. But both of them looked absolutely terrified when I tried to talk about it. And I had visited them for the day - they were living in Cupar, Fife at that time - came back, and they never phoned me up to ask, 'How did you get on? Is everything all right with you?' And I felt very, very bitter about that because they were still both active at that time, much younger than I am now, and, you know, motoring miles and miles to see their grandchildren, but they didn't ' You know, they showed no ' They just didn't want to be involved. And I can understand that, I suppose, but I, you know, still felt pretty sick about it. But there was no support at all, really. So, anyway, anyway '

Q: But your sister, your good sister, was very supportive?
A: Oh, yes, yes. I mean, she doesn't really understand. She comes out occasionally with the most - as indeed do some of my straight friends - the most horrendous heterosexist remarks; but I forgive them because they don't ' they don't know what they're doing. I mean, their intentions are good, you know, ' (Laughter.)

Q: Because your friendship networks have ' have always been quite heterogeneous, haven't they?
A: Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. I mean, part- ' mostly because, there are very few women in Scotland of my age who are out of the closet. I mean, in my work with SMG, because of befrienders, I sort of had contact with various people. They were 'Sssh', very much so. And so most of my friends who were out or even friends I've socialised with round about the gay community are much younger than myself, and I feel this is, ..., well, it's delightful, but it also could be very unhealthy if I, you know, relied entirely on that. So I do have a lot of straight friends as well in my own age group.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the befrienders and stuff, how it worked?
A: Well, it was very amateur at that stage, I think. I believe that now, you know, there's quite strict training and intensive preparation. But, really, at that time it was, ..., more or less anybody who was interested. And it started of phoning from people's houses. I believe we started, ..., in Ellen Henderson's house. Have you heard of Ellen?

Q: No.
A: Well, she was a rather charismatic ' charismatic person who was around at the time. She was working at the Queen's Buildings. And when she returned to America, she went to a MIT and she had a red, scarlet MG sports car in which a great many SMG women were given a spin. (Laughter.) Perhaps we had better not go into that too far.

Q: (Laughter.)
A: ..., and ' But, anyway, she joined the network. And, so we phoned from that ' her house. And Marjorie Cameron was, of course, drawn into this as part of Parents Enquiry. You know all about that, of course. And, ..., ' But then when we acquired the premises in Broughton Street - and I don't know what date that was, but I'm sure Cecil has told you - then the befriending network operated from there. And we had teams of people on certain hours and so on, meeting people, or going out to meet them if they wanted to be met. We had some very strange calls. I mean, it was very wide. It included transvestites, transsexuals and the Beaumont Society and so on.

Q: What was that?
A: The Beaumont Society was something to do with transvestite men. ..., now to begin with, to be perfectly honest, the men tried to sort of offload, I think, these transvestite men onto the lesbians, but I felt actually, to be perfectly honest, that part of the job of the lesbians in SMG - and my god it was boring, it was ghastly, you know - was to educate the men about the different issues that concerned women. I mean, we did have a lot of the feminists in Edinburgh at the time, among whom are some of our dear mutual friends, Ellen, who said, 'You should not be working with men,' as they burst in, in their duffle coats at the time. (Laughter.) But I felt, I felt that we did need to work with men: a) for the purely practical reason that they had a higher profile and the access to the dosh; and b) because it was necessary to educate them about the different concerns of women, because the women's side of things was very much low key and although the principles of non-structural operations ' I think were good, they were absolute death to any way of making headway in the world at large or publicity and so on. So, ..., with that and, ..., ' So we had these private calls and then also, ..., we were asked to send speakers to things like the Samaritan conferences and Fife Social Work and so on. And as I was the only woman on the committee most of the time, I usually got pulled onto do ' I'd do this with Cecil or Dr Alan Roger and so on. And, we got called up once I remember to a miner in Newtongrange who was transvestite. He didn't want his wife to know. So we were with him, counselling him for a while. And then I got a call on my own from him, so I said, 'No, I'm not going out there on my own.' So we did get some ' So, and this was going on, like this most of the time I was connected with the SMG committee and the befriending service and so on. But I left in the early 1980s, you know. I left, actually, because, mostly to, I think ' You'll be able to correct this once Cecil's told you. I'm speak-, quoting purely from memory, which can play tricks of course. Ian ' Oh god, what's ' ?

Q: Dunn?
A: Ian Dunn, yes, who everybody was very fond of, of course, was a bit of a tearaway kid. And he decided it would be a good thing to bring PIE into SMG. And I felt this was an entirely a wrong move, ..., because, you know, bad luck for the members of PIE, but in the eyes of the tabloids and the public in general for such a sort of amalgamation between homosexuality and paedophilia that I thought it was absolutely crazy to encourage this perception.

Q: This PIE is an acronym for Paedophile Information Exchange?
A: Yes, that's right, yes. So ' and also I felt that, you know, I had sort of done what I could and I wanted to get on with my own life and so on and so forth.

Q: (Illegible remark).
A: Sorry?

Q: In 'my own life', this includes your own writing?
A: Yes, yes, that's right.

Q: 'Cos you were a teacher - ' When did you retire from teaching?
A: '85. I was retired ' rather than retired actually.

Q: And had you been at all out in the staff room, as it were?
A: Oh, absolutely not. No. I mean, it was because they just ' Well, they found out about this mostly because the woman I was with at the time turned out to be a valkyrie from hell. (Laughter.) Well, in my estimation anyway. She kept on phoning the staff room every lunchtime. She was a bit of a control freak; wanted to know what I was doing. And I asked her not to and she would. Now, we were actually living together. Before we had lived together I had had quite a ' well, I suppose, an exciting time. (Laughter.) Which is a way of putting it. But nobody had actually lived with me, at least not for any extended period. And, certainly, I hadn't lived ' not in a joint home. And, I think they discovered about this and they decided that they wanted to offload me. But, of course, I could never prove it. So, anyway, that's my private, you know, private struggles or whatever. So ... Sorry, what was the question?

Q: Oh, it was two questions. One was about your writing.
A: Oh, the writing.

Q: But then also '
A: Yes, what was I up to. Yes. No, no, I definitely wasn't out. And, so 1985 was when I was ' was forcibly retired as it were. But that did bring the enormous benefit that I could be completely out. ..., though I wasn't ' I was sort of semi-out, but not to the extent I had been. But it did give me the freedom to speak up and so on and so forth.

Q: 'Cos your writing ' You had written previously just very general historical fiction?
A: Yes. I had written sort of... historical novels for older children. This is the market that was created by people like Rosemary Sutcliffe. And a number of very, very minor writers like myself sort of bobbed along in the wake, you know. I'm not sure that this market ever existed actually. And I was, you know, I ' got along with it and I did ' Well, I didn't do well in monetary terms; in terms of prestige and so on, I did quite well. ..., but in the end my editor at Faber told me that she thought, you know, that she couldn't encourage me to go on with the book I was writing at the time. And, indeed, I never managed to get that published. So I dropped that. And I had been feeling for quite a while that I felt very restricted, because I wanted to express the gay side of my ' not necessarily my personality, but my perception of the world. And, of course, one couldn't do this. I had done it to a certain extent in the very last one, which was set in ancient Greece, but it was very ' (illegible words), you know. And I really wanted to ' And I also felt that I'd like to go into adult fiction and detective fiction. I later found out that, of course, you don't succeed in detective fiction unless you produce at least one novel a year, which I was not able to do because I kept on being diverted by offers I couldn't refuse: to write student guides and being offered quite large sums of money compared with the advances I got from Faber to do this. So I sort of lost the flow as it were.

Q: So your first lesbian writing was actually the detective ' ?
A: Yes.

Q: The historical, period detective?
A: Yes.

Q: How many novels did you - lesbian novels - did you actually write?
A: Well, one and a half really, I suppose. I've only ' Death Wore a Diadem - which I never managed to finish the ' I've got the sequel still on the stocks, but I've never finished it - ..., is the first purely, entirely lesbian novel. And the one before had a kind of slightly lesbian thread in it. ..., but certainly that wasn't the central theme. I mean, the link between the two was the same detective and I intended really to go on producing alternately - ..., using the same detective - alternately a lesbian novel and a, you know, a straight, straight novel as it were. But, as I said, I got ' I've never made any money in my fiction. Well, very, very little. Well, you know, you must have made more than I have ever. And, ..., you know, being offered an advance of fifteen hundred, you know, to write a student guide to The Crucible or something like that is really something that when you get on you can't afford to turn it down. Saying, 'No, no. My art is more important,' you know. And so ' so I've rather lost ' (illegible remark). And, of course, we have been overtaken by Sarah Waters.

Q: And going back to just ' And you said you were, you were culturally enough that you knew about, you know, educated enough that you'd known about Sappho and Greek things, did you find in your own sort of consumption of culture that there was sort of lesbian images or gay images or material that sort of stood out to you as particularly good? You know, in terms of things like ' in the same era of Sister George? I mean, were there positive images or were all the images negative?
A: No, they were all negative. I mean, there were quite a number of doom-laden books. There was one called Trio by Dorothy Baker. Have you come across that book? That's a lesbian novel. ..., very good, but on the whole it all ends badly. It all ends badly. And, of course, you know the, ..., the first novel by - what her name? -Ruth Rendell is a lesbian novel. And then, of course, there's Carol by Patricia Highsmith. But all these are, you know, teeth turned inwards.

Q: It was all the dead les-, you know, the dead lesbian phenomena, wasn't it?
A: Yes, yes, that's right.

Q: But you also ' there were many ' there were various sort of histories weren't there? Interviews, you know, non-fiction pieces about ' that you were writing?
A: Yes.

Q: You were doing ' contributing quite a lot to the sort of collective history of Scottish gay life.
A: Yes, yes. Well, that was mostly done by permission. You know, when I was asked to ... Because, of course, I did have quite an amusing time socially in the fifties. I mean, these gay men were very, very amusing indeed.

Q: You were the pet lesbian, as it were?
A: Well, I think so. Yes, yes, that's right. Yes, because they used to come up to Edinburgh for the festival, I think, yes. And very much consumed... It was showbiz, you know. And so they were very nice to me, actually. Very amusing. ..., but, you know, a universe apart at the end of the day.

Q: Well, it's funny you were a universe apart. Looking now, this is your thing, very ' sort of plugged into lesbian life of a whole span of age groups, what do you feel about sort of differences about, you know, people who, say, are in their twenties and thirties now in terms of how it was for you? I mean, what are your ' ?
A: Well, I mean, I envy them obviously, because they ' they are so un-self-conscious about it. ..., I mean, I don't think I felt personally guilty because I never really ' I've never been religious, really. Although there's a Catholic background on one side and a Methodist on the other, you know, I've never really bought either of them. But there was a social weight, a social guilt and a feeling of hesitancy and so on. Which, in fact, has affected me all my life. I mean, I've never really shaken that off, I think. ..., and I'm so glad that this has gone. Life is so much freer now. ..., but I ' I don't know. You see, I ask myself, now that the political activism has gone, everything has become diluted. Very, very largely diluted. The SMG women's group, there was a very strong sense of camaraderie because, you know, 'one for all and all for one' and so on. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. And it took me a very, very, very long while to accept that people became, or became aware of their lesbianism by very different routes. And this has still puzzled me, you know. I mean, I knew from the age of eight I would never, never get married. I mean, it was just like: but why would I want to spend my life tied to a rhinoceros, you know? I mean, you know, it was so un-natural, so obviously wrong. And I'm just ' But I have to accept, because I have spoken to friends who have been married and have children and so on, and obviously I have to accept their feelings and the way they developed as genuine.

Q: But you're, you're one of the founders of the AD group?
A: Well, not actually a founder. You will probably meet a founder on Thursday night.

Q: Ah.
A: She's coming along. ..., but I was one of the earliest members.

Q: You were an early member?
A: Yes, one of the ' Yes, I was in it from the beginning, yes.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the AD group? My first memory of it was at somebody's party. Whether Julia's party or '
A: That's right, yes.

Q: And somebody said, 'Oh, no. You could only be in it if you remember the war. You have to be old enough to remember the war.'
A: Oh, right. No, no, that was a bit of a ' that was a bit of an exaggeration. ..., well, it all started from ' I think it was the second lesbian ' Was it the se-' ? No, it was ' I don't know if it was the second lesbian film festival. It must have been later than that because that was the awful time when we had to keep Jackie Forster off the vodka. Do you remember?

Q: Yes. She was staying at my house.
A: Yes, that's right. She was staying with you and Ellen. ..., it might have been later than that. But, anyway, there was a workshop on older lesbians which I was asked to run. So I did this and we discussed things and so on. And two of the people who were in there, Ruth Hannah and Mary McCann, decided that as a result of this they might like to set up a group for older lesbians. And they put a, you know, thing up: people, please sign. And we didn't, we didn't hear anything for a month, because they were both very busy doing other things. But, eventually, the meeting was held at Ruth's house and, so it was set up. And, we met at the then Women's Centre on Broughton Street. Do you remember? The other side of the road from Nexus and so on. And, ..., I think there were possibly somewhere between half a dozen and a dozen. I don't remember exactly. And there were people who had come through the gay movement, and there were people who had come through the women's movement and who had been very active in bringing out the women's newspaper. What was it called? Was it Red Herring or something?

Q: Red Herring had been the lesbian newsletter.
A: No, no. It was the women's '

Q: This was the Edinburgh Women's Liberation Newsletter.
A: That's right.

Q: That was later. Red Herring had been, I think, in the seventies, hadn't it?
A: Ah, yes, yes. Oh, well, it was the Women's Liberation Newsletter that Susan ' Susan ' I mustn't mention surnames.

Q: I'll just do the initials or asterisks.
A: Yes. Okay, well, Susan ' (illegible surname) and so on. So it was set up and it was set up with very serious intentions of being a discussion group. So we met, as we have ever since, the first Saturday of the month. We met there and we had discussions on, ..., things that concerned gay women, getting old, the menopause, how we felt, you know, once we were really too old for the scene and so on and so forth. And, actually, on a personal note, that was the first time I managed to talk about this very abusive relationship I'd been in with this valkyrie from hell who had been physically violent and emotionally abusive and everything else, because I had kept all these things to myself up until then. I was such a nice person twenty years ago. What's happened? (Laughter.) Anyway, so this was quite serious stuff. And the result of it was that those of us who were without partners, you know, went away and if we weren't on the scene, which I wasn't by then, '

Q: This was ' ?
A: Sorry, this was 1989 to 90.

Q: The late eighties?
A: Yes, the late eighties to ninety. Those of us who hadn't got a partner were sort of like on our own. And by that time I had stopped really going out on the scene as such. ..., you know, went away and felt we wanted to slit our throats because, you know, there's nothing for the next month and so on. So ' (Sigh.) Anyway, we got calls, and we evolved various procedures and rules. And I must admit that I was very, very instrumental in steering this group towards being a social, a social group, because I always remembered what Ruth ' (illegible surname) had said, and she'll probably speak to you about this, she used to say that it didn't matter what the women were doing together - whether it was beetle drives or philosophical discussions - it was all ' all these activities were a bonding ' a force for bonding, you know. So, ..., the discussions gradually dropped away and we became much more of social ' a social club. But the one great difference between us and other social clubs, such as Sonya's group which had been ' You know about Sonya's group?

Q: No.
A: Well, they are an all-age ' Oh, now; perhaps I better backtrack on the age thing. Now, first of all, we started off at forty-five and then we decided we perhaps ought to drop it to forty. The reason for that being that forty is a kind of psychological watershed, I think most women feel, seem to feel, whether it's true or not. ..., and we have stuck very firmly to that, despite various assaults, attempts by people to bring it down. And the reason being that we feel that below the age ' Not that people-, members of our group don't go on the scene, ..., or that there aren't younger people who don't want the scene, but we just feel that the scene and the pubs and the clubs and so on are really open there for people in ' below the age of forty. So we decided to keep this and we're very, very strict about that. The other thing is that we insist that anybody who wants to join the group can join it, but they must come to one of the monthly meetings first before they get the social calendar. And at the social ' at each one of these Saturday meetings, ..., we ' well, we have a sort of get together, tea and coffee and so on and general chat, and introduce any knew people who turn up and find out how they've turned up, and hand them out the little notice we give to people about confidentiality, because we have got some people who are in ' you know, work areas that are still, you know, vulnerable. ..., and then they get ' then they're a member from there on if they want to be. But we don't let people just drop in. ..., we've actually developed a series of rules as we've went on to meet various contingencies and that's about how it functions. And we have, usually ' oh, about ' at least a dozen, somewhere between one and two dozen events every month. And mostly they're very mundane: the cinema, theatre, meals out, meals in, expeditions outside Edinburgh for some members who live outside and so on.

Q: Not necessarily lesbian or gay-themed, just ' ?
A: No, no. Just, just events. And everybody who is in the group must be... self-proclaimed lesbian, not in a relationship with a man, but otherwise - and over forty. But, you know, ' (illegible remarks) and conditions. So we're a great mix: mostly single women, ..., a few couples, ..., many mothers and even grandmothers now.

Q: It's been going for about, I guess, '
A: Twelve years, twelve years, twelve years. Yes, twelve getting onto thirteen. And, ..., there's no pressure on anybody to come to any events they don't want to, but great pressure to be polite to everybody. We've had one or two ' There is - this is off the record, Ellen -

Q: Do you want to switch off the machine for a second?

Q2: That's quite good, actually.

(Machine is stopped for an off the record conversation. Resumes shortly afterwards.)

Q: When you talk about your political activism and things like this, SMG, The Scottish Minorities Group, '
A: Yes.

Q: When ' Did you, did you ' Were you much of a one for the demos and the marches?
A: Well, on the ' The first one I went on was the first international gay festival, which I think was 1974 possibly. ..., and I did go on that march, ..., part of the way, but not all the way because I was a bit worried about being spotted, you know, being a teacher and so on. And I certainly went to the evening events. (A hoot of laughter.) This is where all the women's ceilidh ' well, the women's dance-cum-ceilidh, and the MacEwan Hall, you know, where all these women sprang naked onto the stage.

Q: Really?
A: Yes, yes.

Q: Please, tell us about it.
A: Well, that's all there is to tell, really. Yes, it was very noisy.

Q: Where were these ' Were these Edinburgh women?
A: Well, I don't know, because they were from all over the place. ..., there certainly were people from all over the place, 'cos I met ' at one of the meetings I met Rachel ' (illegible surname) who came up to me ' I didn't even know at the time she was Rachel ' (illegible surname). You know Rachel?

Q: No.
A: Well, she is in that video of people like us and yourselves. And there are two things, you know. There's Jackie Forster and all these older women. Anyway, she came up and she looked at me and she wrote on a piece of paper, 'You look nice. Are you?' And I wrote back, 'That is not for me to say. Why aren't you speaking?' And she wrote back, 'I am always silent on Thursdays in memory of Hiroshima.'

Q: Wow!
A: I think it was Thursday. I can't be quite sure about that, but I can be sure about the rest of it.

Q: Tell us about this event. I keep hearing references to it.
A: Well, I was out for the count for some of it because I went down with a horrendous cold. I always seem to manage to do it at vital times. ..., there was a march and then there were various conferences. Papers were delivered. I was asked to do a paper, which was in this booklet, but I couldn't give it because I was flat out with flu. ..., and ' there was this women's event, of course, in the MacEwan Hall. And various things like that. I mean, Edinburgh had never seen anything like it. And I think it must have been one of the first European gay conferences ever.

Q: Where did the march go?
A: ..., of dear. I knew it ended up at the MacEwan Hall, somewhere round the MacEwan Hall, because most of the events were centred around university premises. I cannot remember where it started from. There maybe some things ' (illegible remarks) about it.

Q: Do you remember the reactions from the pavements?
A: Nothing very much at all. I mean, it wasn't anything like the Gay Pride marches. It really wasn't.

Q: Did you go on the Gay Pride marches?
A: Oh, yes, yes. I mean, as soon as '... as soon as I stopped teaching I went ' (illegible remarks). I don't go now, actually, very ' Well, I think the last one I went was three years ago. I think I went '. Yes, that last one I went was in Glasgow. I have some photo's of that. It ended up in Glasgow Green. But I didn't go on the last one in Edinburgh. I'm not sure I'll go on any others. It's just ' (illegible remarks).

Q: What about some of the sort of the action things like the Bank of Scotland or the anti-Brian Soutar, Clause 28 demos? Were you involved in any of them?
A: Well, to an extent. I mean, I joined some of them; some I didn't. But I really couldn't say that I was an activist now.

Q: But you spoke rather about 'the scene'.
A: Yes. Well, in the later seventies and the early eighties ' In the early eighties, of course, the scene began to ' (illegible remarks) as a scene. I mean, I know there are gay pubs and clubs, but there was a kind of rotating series of ' pubs that put on discos. There was Valenino's, Tiffany's which burnt down. And where else was there? There was a place down Leith Walk that did it. And, The Laughing Duck, of course, in it's first incarnation. And these all held women's discos on certain nights. ..., and there I was to be seen. (Laughter.) Much slimmer than I am now. (Laughter.) So, But I think'and, you know, various gay pubs and so on.

Q: Were there different groups went to different pubs?
A: I don't think so. Not that I was aware of. There were, of course, a lot of people who went to these places who weren't involved in SMG or the other, the other gay organisations that developed from '

Q: And what about ' In t...s of links between, say, the SMG women - you did mention the feminists with duffle coats '
A: Yes, yes, yes.

Q: ' bouncing in - what ' do you remember much about the interactions between, say, the lesbian feminist scene and the SMG women's scene? Were there overlaps?
A: A little bit. Up to a certain extent, because some of the lesbian feminists came into ' came into the SMG women's group. But I think I know one or two mutual friends who came in ' who came in to tell us not to interact with men and stayed perhaps in the group for a little while, and possibly visa versa. But I didn't actually have much to do with the lesbian feminist scene as such. Well, it wasn't a scene, was it? It was ' there were working groups and conferences. I did go to one or two women's conferences, but, I got a bit fed up with them quite frankly. ..., you know, I do remember going to those workshops and I just felt that they weren't getting anywhere. And I believe a lot of this was founded on the need to be positively heterosexual women self-confidence and the ability to talk and take charge of their own lives. And, I'm afraid, I was not very charitable towards this because ' for what I consider a very good reason that, as you will probably remember Ellen, it was a very, very long time before the women's movement supported lesbians. The lesbians were the spearheads of most of the, campaigns within the women's movement. You know, it was a case of, 'I am not a lesbian, but '' And I felt quite, quite strongly about that and quite un-sisterly, I'm afraid. (Long pause.) But I think those boundaries have blurred since then.

Q: Because there were, there were overlaps.
A: Oh, yes. Absolutely.

Q: Some of us moved between them.
A: Yes, yes, indeed. Yes.

Q: Were there, were there sort of ' things you might ' Were there ' Was there a language? Just as the, you know, in the sort of male gay parties in the fifties; things like Polari. Were there code words, phrases that you remember? For example, you tend to talk about 'gay women' at a time, rather than ' where other people might say 'lesbians' or 'dykes'. Do you feel that there were changes in style or ' styles of language?
A: Well, I think, to be perfectly honest, that the women who were involved with SMG were very un-politicised most of them. I think most of the politicised women lean far more - even if they were involved with SMG - lean far more heavily towards the lesbian feminist or the feminist ' (illegible remarks), the feminist side of things. ..., and the women who contacted SMG... Now, how can I put this without being non-PC?

Q: Be as non-PC as you would like.
A: Well, I feel that women with a professional background, ..., who were mostly incomers I must say from England, tended to be more involved with the feminist or lesbian feminist movement. And the native Scots very largely - and a surprisingly enormous number from Fife - tended to be involved in work that was certainly not as well remunerated as the professional, professional women. And I would say that very largely comprised the... a lot of the women in SMG. Put it down to my endless ' (illegible remarks) that I notice these things.

Q: What about debates about things like class and socialism? Did those ' ?
A: That never arose, that never arose in SMG women's group apart from very, very general conversation. Very general conversation indeed. (Long pause.) I think, you see, the women who came into SMG were looking for lesbian company, lesbian social events. ..., the SMG was not, certainly the social events, were not as well organised. I don't mean not as well organised, but not as structurally organised as we now have in AD group. Certainly they were organised. I mean, you will get a much more amplification on this when you speak to Ruth. I was ' To be perfectly honest, Ellen, I mean, a lot of my time when I was involved with SMG I was also very heavily involved in very interesting but rather hectic personal events. (Laughter.)

Q: Which you are free to speak of, or not, as you like.
A: Well, I'm rather ashamed of a lot of them, so I think I shouldn't. (Laughter.)

Q: Okay. (Laughter.)
A: I might be had up for libel as well.

Q: (Illegible remark.) Okay, well, I ' I think, in terms of the sort of the list of things that I came ' as curious about or I knew you had an interesting story about, I think I've asked most of the things. I don't know if you noticed any gaps where you ' (illegible remarks)?

Q2: Is there anything else that you would like to tell us about?
A: ..., '

Q2: Anything at all? Perhaps about, being 'in' at work and did you come across other people who were teaching who recognised '?
A: Well, my ' When I took ' I should explain that as a teacher, most of my career was spent in girls' grammar schools in the south of England, mostly in the Greater London area. And London area being London area ' I mean, once people finished the day at the school, they all disappeared in different directions. And, as you know, you know, five miles distance in London is equal to twenty miles distance in anywhere further north. You know the density of the population and so on. ..., I felt that the school I - I'm not going to name this. I mean, you know where I worked, but I better not. I felt that the school where I came to work in, in Edinburgh had a very, very different atmosphere to the grammar schools I'd worked at in England. And, for various reasons, which are not really relevant to this at the moment ' But at one point, and I think this is purely a movement forward in society, when I'd worked in England there were very few married women on the staff; they were all single. There were a great many married on the staff and a great many sort of interconnections between these women who had younger relations in the school, which was something I was not used to. But there were also a core of single women but in particular departments, which again I will not specify. ..., and I felt very strongly from ' I had the feeling that these were possibly gay women, though they would never 'out' themselves. And they held rather aloof from me because although I didn't say, 'Look at me, I'm lesbian,' I was outspokenly feminist in my views. And the nearest I ever got to be- ' being tipped the wink was that somebody said to me, 'You know The Claret Jug, Iona, in North '' Was it Northumberland Street?

Q: Great King Street.
A: Great King Street. '' lots of women like to meet there on Saturday mornings.' But I never took her up on that. A pity! (Laughter.) But I did feel that, possibly ' But, you see, you would never, never have found out. Never. It would never have been admitted.

Q: So there might have been this rich, vivid scene at The Claret Jug of which we know nothing.
A: Yes. And the, ..., one of the teachers on the staff - who's now dead actually, and in fact was dismissed very abruptly later, just before I left myself - ..., was bosom pals with a teacher in the school where my partner worked. And we used to go out as a foursome. But nothing was ever said or admitted. So it was all very secretive. Very secretive.

Q: Was there a time or places where you ' went away to places that were less secretive? You know, the equivalent of when Americans got to Provincetown to get out of closeted little western places?
A: Well, Anne would never go anywhere near the scene. She just absolutely refused. So ' But, I mean, you must remember when this was. Years and years ago.

Q: We're talking the sixties?
A: We're talking the sixties and then the early seventies, yes, yes. And so, no, I never had that until I sort of hit SMG and ' (laughter) the lovely young women ' which I never had the pleasure of being out with a partner. So ' (Long pause.)

Q: Well, I think there's nothing else specific. I think, you know, you've given us a fantastic load of goodies.
A: Well, I '

Q: I think it's really, really valuable.
A: But I will, I will look out and see what I've got from the way of, you know, documentation.

Q: And, as I say, the way that we do things is we'll give you a copy of a cassette once we've done that.
A: Yes.

Q: We'll do a transcript of the interview. ..., then the mini-disc itself, the recording becomes part of the archive.
A: Oh, yes. I mean, obviously '

Q: But then '
A: ' you can cut things out.

Q: You can look at it and say, 'Oh, no, no. Let's just ' That bit is not for public access.' And what we're hoping to do, there's going to be a little exhibition in July. Stonewall Youth, who are an unbelievably dynamic bunch of kiddies, ' (illegible remarks), they're running a community fair at Meadowbank and, you know, we'll have a sort of little exhibition there. But we're also trying to put together funding to get ' And we've actually ' Helen, who is the curator at People's Story, Helen Clark, you must know her, has actually booked us a space into The City Arts Centre for 2004/2005 to really do a big sort of high profile exhibition. So then there might well be some oral history sound bytes, you know, where there might ' You know, and then it might just be tasty edited thematic bits.
A: Oh, yes. I realise that. Don't worry. I had to speak ' Somebody came, about Fifty Lives, and she was, you know, about an hour and a half and I was reduced to two ' one minute.

Q: 'Cos what ' (illegible remarks). You weren't in it, but do you remember the film, was it Sharon and Margo? There was a film that ... They used your flat '
A: That's right.

Q: ' but you weren't in it. Was that ' ?
A: No, no, no. I wasn't in it. And, ..., no, they used my partner at the time.

Q: I remember that vividly.
A: The lovely Ena, yes.

Q: And this is ' (illegible remarks).
A: Oh, God. No, no, no. (Illegible remarks) ' lovely Australian nurse. God bless her and all who sail in her. A lovely but sluttish lady. I don't know, she's in Blackpool now.