While I was fretting away yesterday night, trying to find the crow wummin's opening disquisition from Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, I received a number of interesting suggestions for alternative Liz Lochhead pieces, worthy of mention. One came from the helpful Sean McP (whose blog I commend to all of those who haven't already taken it in) who suggested the following poem. Being unfamiliar with the piece, its subject matter struck a chord with me and echoes a familiar phenomenon I've encountered in my own life. Looking back on what has become of the small band of sticky-fingered, scraped-kneed pupils who took in our first formal learning in a very small primary school in Argyll, their adult fates proved to be very much determined by their parents' attitudes and whether they could envisage universities as places for them, places they could be welcomed at and belong to. I don't want to conflate academic learning with happiness or fulfilment - but as a soul who sets great store by our public institutions of knowledge, reflection and education - I can't entirely lose the sense that folk I knew didn't come to study for poor reasons that had little to do with a lack of interest or the want of capacity, but which were largely the consequence of feeling an abashed, constraining disavowal epitomised by the phrase "that's not for me". Lochhead's poem neatly captures some of the anxieties of the alternative choice, leaving one thirled to books and the papery comfort of tomes, and the reader reads alone. Although I no longer live in the area, from sundry scraps of scuttlebutt that navigate their way out of Dalriada, my sense is that that atmosphere may be changing.
The Choosing~ Liz Lochhead
We were first equal Mary and Iwith the same coloured ribbons in mouse-colouredhair,and with equal shynesswe curtseyed to the lady councillorfor copies of Collins’s Children Classics.First equal, equally proud.
Best friends too Mary and Ia common bond in being cleverest(equal)in our small school’s small class.I rememberthe competition for top deskor to read aloud the lessonat school service.And my terrible fearof her superiority at sums.
I remember the housing schemeWhere we both stayed.The same house, different homes,where the choices were made.
I don’t know exactly why they moved,but anyway they went.Something about a three-apartmentand a cheaper rent.But from the top deck of the high school busI’d glimpseamong the others on the cornerMary’s father, mufflered, contrasting strangelywith the elegant greyhounds by his side.He didn’t believe in high school education,especially for girls,or in forking out for uniforms.
Ten years later on a Saturday-I am coming home from the library-sitting near me on the bus,Marywith a husband who is tall,curly haired, has eyes for no one else but Mary.Her arms are round the full-shaped vasethat is her body.Oh, you can see where the attraction liesin Mary’s life-not that I envy her, really.
And I am coming from the librarywith my arms full of books.I think of the prizesthat were ours for the takingand wonder when the choices got madewe don’t remember making.