Monday, 10 February 2020

Who the hell is Sophia Pangloss?

Who the hell is Sophia Pangloss? I have asked myself that question many times over many years, and it's a question I think needs answered at last.

She is the voice in my head
She is my mother speaking
She was, and is, a joke
She's a nobody
She's a voice
She is my voice
She's crabbit
She's witty
She's a maven
She's a storyteller
She's a history, she's a herstory, she's a mystory...

I have two voices in my head, one speaks Scots and the other English. On Twitter I originally tried to only tweet in Scots, though the English slipped through, and after the Indyref loss it thrust itself through and I lost my Scots voice for a while. Now, Sophia tweets in Scots, the language she learned at hame, Stuart tweets in English, the language he learned at school. When I speak publicly on Twitter, I picture two audiences; there's Us (us Scots that ken whit ah'm oan aboot), and there's Us and everybody else on Twitter. It depends on who I mean when I mean I want it to mean something to someone...

My mother is my heart, you know that. She gave me her history to add to mine, she taught me more than she'll ever know. Some of my voice is an echo of hers, I heard her, I want you to hear her.

Sophia Pangloss arrived in this life at the back end of last century, back in the days of "a/s/l?", which out of pure contrariness I had taken to answering "twohundredandtwentysomething/f/lithuania"... Then there's Tragedy Day by Gareth Roberts... Candide by Voltaire... they all collided and Sophia was born. Much drink and many spliffs were involved. The Doctor was Dr Pangloss and the Doctor's Daughter had to have a name. Having spent much of the 1980's resisting the pressure to have a 'camp name' which would probably have been Sophia (I think it was first suggested by Fiona Scone in 1985 though it may have been by the Marchioness of Newington...), that seemed the obvious choice, Sophia's sophisticated, but she's not really, she's a sophist, but she's not, really...

Pangloss means 'all' and 'tongue' (or does it mean pang and loss..?) She's all tongue, she's all talk, she's glib, she's universal, she's all about the talk.

In short she's a classy thinker that talks shit about anything and everything.

She's a biddy that bides up a stair. She's the ghostly face in the window of a block of tenements in a photo taken in the eighteen hundreds in Duke Street, she's the camp follower of the Edinburgh Mob, she's the windae-hinger an sometime windae-slinger, she's Isa, she's Cissie, she's Dolly, she's Molly, she's the wumman that never had and never has a voice.

She's my voice. That's new. I never felt I could write. I did well at primary school, but it became apparent in the Academy that English wasn't my strongest subject. I shudder at the thought of Miss Shedden... I still blame her for having to start wearing specs as a teen, sitting up at midnight struggling with her English homework assignments... it was the subject I did worst in at O and Higher grades. I was a scientist back then. Went through my life being hampered by that feeling, that I couldn't write, until I wrote in Scots. That felt daring, a laugh, honest, sharp. I could write (I think) when I never thought I could before. Speaking as Sophia is me speaking as a Scot, in the language I was taught not to use at school, in Scotland.

Sophia's crabbit, she disnae suffer fools at aw, gladly or otherwise, she's hard in the nose. She says whit needs tae be said. She cuts the crap.

She thinks she's funny.

I have always loved learning. Always. My favourite books in our house were Arthur Mees's 10 volume Family Encyclopaedia. I read them all. I admit, that has given me some very outdated mental pictures of the world and I have spent a lifetime correcting his errors, but that's ok too. Learn. So, a lot of Sophia's work has been collecting, curating, hunting for the lead‐ins to get folk interested and help them learn. Understand.

Linlithgow will always be where my history-soaked heart will lie, there's a spot in the Palace that is forever mine, but Edinburgh being where I settled and made my nest, it was an obvious place to start. When I read the tale of a Woman For Sale I wanted to tell that story, and that's how shootinfaetheshin started. It's a way to tell some stories people won't know, my own included...

Storytelling has meaning, we all learn through stories, from Wee Willie Winkie to Red Dead Redemption. We all want to sit at someone's knee and hear a story that paints beautiful pictures in our heads. I want to be the knee.

If we don't learn from history, we don't learn. Understand.

So who the hell is Stuart?

He's Scottish, born in Bangour, grew up in Linlithgow, lives in Leith, where Honeyman Old stepped ashore after being cleared from his home in Sutherland in the 18th century, at the start of the Clearances, carrying the Old name I still carry 6 generations later...

This Old had to carry that name behind three popular and successful siblings through school, (to be followed by another, just as successful) competing to be heard all the time, luckily getting the grades to choose between a future in law or medicine (that was the sum total of 70s careers guidance) so I moved from a West Lothian council flat to Edinburgh Medical School (one of 3 'cooncil hoosers' out of 186 in our year), but I really moved to escape from Linlithgow, where growing up gay in the 60s and 70s had been utterly exhausting, I had a major depressive episode after 2 years at Medical School, (I speak as a trained professional, looking back... but at the time no-one noticed) and of course, I came out as gay at the same time. The two were connected. That was a Very Difficult Time, I came out the same week the first GRIDS cases were being reported in the Gay News. That, plus the article on fist-fucking had me flapping that closet door open and shut more times than Goldie Hawn on a purple one, my coming out was a bumpy one, like most people's... Gay Switchboard helped me out here, a lot... my family, not so much...

Then, and I consider this the luxury of my life, I was allowed 2 further years of fully-supported first-class Scottish university education to compensate for my failure to break the class ceiling, which I put to good use 'expanding my horizons' and becoming the person I am. This involved a lot of sex, drugs and politics... and some rock'n'roll yes, but mainly electronic dance music, and eventually another crisis, playing out in my twenties the adolescent love-games I always felt denied in my teens... wish I hadn't bothered, that kind of drama only leads to... well yeah, it led to there one night, that long dark night of the soul... and I'm writing this so, that all worked out okay... in the end...

From that low point things had to turn around, and they did. After my drop-out period I was bartending in a local bar for a colony of artisans, pink triangle proudly worn behind the bar at all times, happily settling down to domestic bliss in pre-marriage days, never feeling the need in my relationships for a certificate from the State, just for the State to stay out of my relationships. I remember sitting one quiet night staffing the Gay Switchboard phones and my colleague saying "Have you ever thought of becoming a psychiatric nurse?" (don't ya just love the old-fashioned language I use?) So I did...

33 years later I have retired. I feel I have balanced my scales, I have returned at least what this society has given me. My career, mostly in elderly acute hospital admission and community psychiatric nursing, was clean and fulfilling, I spent 8 years on Switchboard, befriended and supported many gay men, trained many new volunteers and organised the first ever Scottish Gay and Lesbian Switchboards conference. I built myself a home with two beautiful Scottish men and six beautiful Scottish cats over the years (at different times, I'm not an old cat-woman, yet...). I built myself a private life and closed the stair door...

Reader, that's who the hell Sophia Pangloss is.