Good news of any kind is in short supply these days. Two areas of our life in which negative reports prevail are the behaviour of today's teenagers, and the state of what David Cameron insists on calling our 'broken society.' All the more reason then to write about any experience, however minor, which suggests that not all teenagers are feral, surly, uncommunicative, and irresponsible – and that not everyone in our society has forgotten what consideration for others means.
Late in the summer I was travelling with two American friends from Oban to Glasgow. The train we were on was very busy. So it was no surprise that the fourth seat at our table was soon occupied by a fellow-traveller: a young girl probably about 16 or 17. She seemed unconcerned about being surrounded by elderly companions and did not retreat into earphones. In fact in no time at all we were all engaged in animated conversation. She turned out to be in fifth year at high school and we soon had to concede that she was surrounded by no fewer than three professors of English.
Quite undaunted she told us she wasn't particularly academic – not the brightest bulb in her class as she put it – but she was determined all the same to make something of her life. She had been a keen football player but found when she became 14 she could only play in all female teams – and unfortunately there was no such team within a reasonable distance of where she lived. (I suggested she check out 'Gregory's Girl.')
What was she going to do after school? Well, nursing was an attractive idea, but she was not certain her academic qualifications would be good enough. Still she would try her hardest to get there. Were there any other possibilities? Yes, she really enjoyed cooking. That could be good we agreed – people with cooking skills always seemed to be in demand in the catering industry. Keep it in mind we said.
In all of this her conversation was bright, quick-fire, lively and entertaining. There was no suggestion of an act to impress heavy-duty professors. She had been to Disneyland in Orlando but that had been a long time ago. She was a huge fan of the Scottish actor Gerard Butler. Had we heard of him? Yes, and I'd seen him in '300'. But no, I didn't know he'd studied law at Glasgow University and certainly hadn't taught him.
Our young friend left the train at Dalmuir and we were unanimous and serious in wishing her the good fortune she so clearly deserved – in what we all agreed were difficult times. A year or two younger, she reminded me of many of the Dartmouth College students who come over from America to study for a term in Glasgow: the same combination of light-hearted enjoyment of life, with a kind of seriousness of intention to do something worthwhile, to be positive, to make a contribution. How reassuring to discover that such teenagers do still exist.
And that our society is not entirely broken. A few days ago, extracting some cash from a machine in Glasgow's west end, I somehow contrived to lose from my wallet a library card and some business cards. I'm still puzzled how I could have done this without even noticing. Anyway, an hour or two after getting home, the telephone rang. A gentleman told me he and his wife had noticed the cards on the pavement, picked them up, and was now phoning to be sure I was the person named on them. It was no problem, he lived not far away, and would post the cards back to me. Next day they arrived – first class. Amid my confused thanks I had not caught his name – and there was no name with the envelope. But thanks are indeed due to my anonymous fellow citizen – who proves that here in Glasgow civil society does still exist.
This article was first published in SR in 2011