Celebrating 70 years of life. Graduating from Medical School, the start of a family to publishing my novel Not the Life Imagined by Anne Pettigrew
I have no idea how it happened, but suddenly, I’m to be a septuagenarian. Though it sounds more like a prehistoric reptile or religious cult member, even by referencing my wrinkles or past Presbyterian allegiance, I cannot escape the fact I have arrived at my biblically allotted age of three score years and ten. Sadly due to covid, I can’t holiday with my family nor throw a party. All I can do is give thanks I’m still here and wonder at the changes I’ve seen over the last seven decades. And be thankful I’ve often laughed.
My first decade was spent deluded. Princess Anne, born August 1950, was named after me. Thanks, Mum, for that false news… And until five, I thought my Glasgow home suburb was internationally famous, until at five my Dad gently told me they were singing ‘Lang Syne, ’ not ‘Langside.’ The rest of the fifties were spent hoovering up the books of Blyton and Brent-Dyer, accepting I’d never see an expensive boarding school, but grateful I wasn’t one of the Famous Five. I’d have hated ‘lashings of ginger beer.’ The world got radial tyres, non-stick pans, TV, and tetracycline. I got my life-long friend Muriel, who every year reminds me she’s seven days younger. And my granny predicting one day we’d be able to see our callers on the phone. I laughed.
By the sixties at secondary school, I read writers like Alcott, Austen, and the Bronte girls, but preferred the meatier John Buchan. Compton Mackenzie, Graham Green and Rider Haggard. Luckily, I’ve visited Our Man in Havana’s stamping ground in Cuba, but still hanker after Alan Quartermain’s Moroccan Atlas Mountains. (For the young, Haggard’s Quartermain was the original Indiana Jones). The world got the Beatles, miniskirts, lasers, Valium, and the pill. I got a university medical place and more loyal friends I still laugh with.
By my third decade, I’d graduated, married, moved to Inverclyde to become a GP, and had a son. Reading time was non-existent, but the TV portrayed wars everywhere, astronomers discovered black holes, plus we got mobiles and the Twix. The first email went via ARPANET. It wouldn’t catch on…
In the eighties, I had a long-awaited daughter. The UK defended the Falklands, gave ‘our’ colonies back independence, the CND protested for peace, and PCs arrived, as did My Little Pony, Lady Diana, Mad Cow Disease and Margaret Thatcher. I quietly worked away in the surgery, occasionally taking holidays to the US and the Med, when I’d read the escapist novels of Arthur Hailey or Jilly Cooper. My scientist brother-in-law predicted we’d soon be watching films on TV via the telephone line. I laughed.
By my fifth decade I was dabbling in complementary medicine, running a family ‘taxi,’ and binge reading when possible on fantastical/historical fiction from Potter, Pullman, and old Nigel Tranter. I also enjoyed taste of the Orient novels like Memoirs of a Geisha or Three Swans, plus Bridget Jones and her big pants! The 90s heralded the world wide web, Dolly the Sheep and man landing on Mars. I lectured abroad on Homeopathy. Who’d have thought? I’d formerly laughed at it.
The noughties saw me trek to a sabbatical master’s in medical anthropology at Oxford while my son took his MPhil. I sought ways to promote healthy living. The answer was simple: educate girls. There was joy in having time to read historical and international coursework, especially Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel on European’s devastation of the Americas, Cantor’s In the Wake of The Plague, and Marmot’s Social Determinants of Health highlighting the inequalities which doom so many. Meanwhile, the world got iPod and YouTube, and geneticists mapped the human genome, discovering we share 98% or our genes with chimpanzees. For some politicians however, I suspect it may be more.
My seventh decade has been spent in retirement, at 68 publishing a ‘medical noir’ novel, Not the Life Imagined, and imminently its sequel, Not the Deaths Imagined. The world has gone crazy and fragmented. Life may never be the same again. But I can still laugh, especially in the mirror. Without my hairdresser, I can see the chimpanzee genes.
Glasgow born Anne Pettigrew was a Greenock GP for 31 years and a light-hearted medical columnist in The Herald and medical press. A Glasgow graduate of 1974, she also has an Anthropology Masters from Oxford.