Scotland has a thriving young music scene. As haggard old groupies, hubby and I descended (literally) to Nice N Sleazy to see Crystal (our daughter plays bass), one of the young bands to emerge from Behind the Noise, the excellent Glasgow schools programme. But the news of the death of the musician and poet Scott Hutchison was on the minds of these youngsters some of whom were traumatised by his death, particularly the manner of it. He spoke directly and eloquently of his wounded soul, his brokenness. And they heard him.
It has struck me over the last couple of years that the lyricism of contemporary young musicians, is extraordinary. Growing up with T. Rex, the Stones, Bowie, I often had no idea what they were on about. But I didn't care. What mattered to me was a good tune, heavy rhythm and a well-placed riff. That has changed. Many of today's young people have found a voice in these troubling times through music, with the latter expressing sometimes plaintive, often searing, commentary on their lives. That these young men and women can express their pain through music is obviously a good thing. But it's not good enough, as has been made clear by the death of Scott Hutchison and others like him. 'Floating on the Forth' is now almost unbearable to hear.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in Scotland. We need a new suicide prevention strategy and our current faltering mental health strategy needs fixing, and fast. As Scott's band Frightened Rabbit tweeted this week – Mental Health Week – 'Don't ever think there isn't someone out there who wants to listen to what you have to say.' Yes we can hear you, yes we can listen, but this country needs to do something urgently because listening is simply not enough.
A Canadian cousin from Vancouver came to visit last week. Vancouver is a magnificent city. Its architecture is of the wood, glass and steel variety, but the juxtaposition of ocean and towering mountains is a sight to behold. I remember one day on Jericho beach, paddling and playing ball-games whilst herons, and even an eagle, swooped around our heads. Later that day, following a short drive and a chair-lift where we could see the occasional bear we were on a mountain, still with flip-flops, having a snowball fight.
So what does our Vancouverite make of Scotland? We had previously taken her to Glencoe, which she adored, despite the relative smallness of the mountains. The atmosphere and terrain were like nothing she had ever experienced. What would she make of a day trip to visit family in Rothesay? To see a place through a visitor's eyes is instructive. First stop was Wemyss Bay railway station: that extraordinary Victorian curved steel and glass station designed in 1903. The crossing to Bute throws the craggy magnificence of Arran into full view towering over its smaller, flatter sister isle. On arrival, a quick toilet break in another Victorian gem on Rothesay pier.
Two features which make Bute a special place is its architecture and flora. Architecturally, Bute has a number of gems: the art deco Pavilion on the front, the tenements reminiscent of Glasgow and Edinburgh with grand Georgian town houses leading to the ultimate in architectural extravagance, Mount Stuart House. As to the vegetation, palm trees wave in the light breeze, with a bright blue Firth of Clyde as a backdrop. On a grand summer's day you could imagine you were in the south of France. The more I think of it, no wonder Rothesay was a hugely popular holiday destination for Glasgow's working classes before cheap flights. And to be honest, much as I love Mediterranean beaches, there's something to be said for a week's holiday 'doon the watter.' My Canadian cousin agrees. We've even got our very own killer whales.
Talking of 'doon the watter,' the saddest of comments I've heard for a while was reported from a Holyrood education committee into the impact of poverty on educational attainment. A headteacher in a Glasgow school in an area characterised by social and economic deprivation commented, almost in passing, that some of her poorest pupils hadn't seen the sea. How can that be, in a small country surrounded by water (freezing, I grant you) with stunning beaches not an hour from Scotland's largest city with accessible transport links?
This matters a lot. Apart from the hours of fun and discovery scampering around beaches and marvelling at the waves, there is a fundamental privation for these children, namely, the opportunity to observe difference. Knowing that things can be otherwise is vital to intellectual and moral development. Development is in large part a matter of knowing what is possible, because this gives children an inkling of what can be achieved. Diversity is invaluable not just as a way of meeting and understanding different kinds of people, to different modes of thought and different ways of doing things, but also to different environments, natural and built.
I ran a programme to Italy years ago for Glaswegian undergraduates characterised by social and economic disadvantage. Some of these students didn't have, and had never had, a passport. The trip, in their own words, was transformative. My counterparts in London told me that some of their school students had never been on the underground, or visited the centre of the capital. This matters. Being poor is not simply an economic problem, it's an educational one at the most fundamental level.