S T Bindoff was in his time – he died in 1980 – a well-known historian of the English Tudor period. His book Tudor England
was published in the year of my birth – 1950 – and here is part of his cover notes on 'The Author', where he slightly pompously refers to himself in the third person:
He originally undertook to write the present volume in partnership with his wife, Dr Marjorie Blatcher, who, he maintains, knows far more about the period than he does; but her family preoccupations have limited her role to that of a critic.
I googled Dr Blatcher, and sadly she seems indeed only to have published one book, in 1978 – a legal history of the King's Bench during the Tudor period – hardly a niche topic – so it appears her 'family preoccupations' continued to preoccupy her. Today we would be appalled by her husband's attitude, yet it doesn't seem to have been intended as patronising – indeed, he modestly refers in the same piece to his 'failure to secure the expected First Class', which clearly rankled, so he probably intended to be gallant.
For me, though, it is interesting to consider the change in women's roles in one person's lifetime – today it would be quite the norm for husband and wife to share 'family preoccupations', and the idea of a female academic abandoning her career to have children would be considered bizarre. But Dr Blatcher's generation had welcomed men home from war, and at all levels of society it was expected they would give up their new found careers to return to running a household – and to give men back 'their' jobs.
My mother and many of her friends considered it to be a mark of shame that married women should work – it meant the husband's wages were insufficient. Having grown up as all these changes to women's roles were happening, I wonder if at the time I realised how much had changed as I grew up and inherited my own 'family preoccupations'?
Having said this, I have to admit that I am not a good role model for women's development over that late 20th century. Most of the time I had to work to pay the bills, as my late husband was divorced and as a consequence always struggling for money. I had two years' break as a full-time parent, only because in those days maternity leave was far more difficult to get, and whilst technically unemployed I undertook a part-time college course to help me back into employment. But this apparent industry hides the fact that I am naturally lazy (when I can't see anything that requires 'sorting out' – I'm a Virgo, after all) and I have never really liked any of the jobs I was paid to do.
I have a deal of sympathy for those women who choose to be full-time parents – frequently nurturing and developing children is far more creative and fulfilling than organisational life, so often marked by jockeying for position, backstabbing and fear of losing your job, as these days you have few employment rights. Interestingly, I know several young fathers who have been delighted to swap roles with their partners and look after the children whilst the woman does battle with organisational demons.
I seem to remember that the Hebrew Bible recommended that young men who had recently married should give up any other employment during the first couple of years of being a parent and focus on creating a successful family life. Nowadays there is often tacit pressure on both parents to return to paid work as soon as they can. Yet the conundrum is there aren't enough paid jobs in the commercial sector to go round – come independence I'll be urging the new Scottish Government to introduce Universal Basic Income as a matter of urgency.
When not entertaining people (hopefully) with pieces for the Scottish Review
, every so often I make a few controversial comments on Twitter (yes, the picture is a few years old but at least it's not airbrushed like some folk I know). I have to rapidly block anyone who comments on my posts who is an unreconstructed Unionist (the type who still thinks B Johnson is doing a great job and could he throw a few back-handers their way?), anti-EU racists, and more recently 'antivaxxers', who seem to have conveniently forgotten that as children they would have been routinely vaccinated against once deadly diseases.
Professor Seaton would have given them short shrift. They range from types who believe the government is planting micro electrodes in their brains, to young mothers – I know several – who believe that getting the Covid vaccine will poison their breast-fed children.
There was a similar issue about vaccination when my son was an infant – that faked research into the MMR vaccine by the disgraced medical researcher Andrew Wakefield which wrongly linked it with autism. As a parent offered the vaccine at the time and agonising about it, I'm thankful that I knew enough about research principles to read about Wakefield's paper and know that it was flawed, so my son had the vaccine and lived to tell the tale. I gather disgrace has been pretty lucrative for Wakefield, as he moved to the USA and is some sort of health guru over there, raking in the cash, rather challenging the concept of karma in this life.
Interestingly, whenever my son had a vaccination as an infant, I would get a pain in my arm as well – I don't know if that is common in anxious mothers. Today I've got my own sore arms – both – as yesterday I had the flu vaccine and the Covid booster. I assume both of them have worked, as apart from a sore arm I've never had any of the more melodramatic side effects claimed by some friends and family. Could this possibly be a way of having a free 'duvet day', I ask myself in a cynical moment? Thankfully, this is the polite and respectful Scottish Review
and not the wilds of the Twittersphere, where no doubt I would be rapidly informed in no uncertain terms that the vaccine had caused everything from a sore head to a nervous breakdown.
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant