I came to live and work in Shetland 39 years ago. I first lived in Unst, and was one of three women who drove cars there, and the only woman who went to funerals.
I remember shopping in a big store in Lerwick, and when I produced my cheque card I was asked by a fellow Orcadian shop assistant if I did not have a driver’s licence. She would have been happier with that form of identification.
In school, teachers used the head teacher’s Christian name when they addressed him, and generally there was much less formality than in Orkney, where people of the older generation were addressed as Mr, Mrs, or Miss.
Discipline problems in school were rare. Church attendance was reasonably healthy, halls were as yet unlicensed and really enjoyable events featured variety concerts. One event I recall with great fondness was a box supper.
Weddings were hugely enjoyable events that called for total community participation and a tremendous degree of co-operation. Occasions like auld Yule was another example of visitors being welcomed into local homes.
We rarely locked houses or cars.
The boys played football for their own area in pre-ferry times. Parish Cup days were mega, and it would have been unthinkable that the visiting team would have left without partaking of the host team’s hospitality, something I witnessed very recently.
However, not all changes are bad. Tonight I decided to take a run into town and have a look at the events around the pier. I must say that I was very pleasantly surprised by what I did not see.
Apart from one sleeping young lady on a seat on da street, and one lonesome youth weaving an erratic gait, there were no drunks to be seen swabbing around the Esplanade area, and nobody throwing up in the lanes. In fact there was no evidence of any of the kind of anti-social behaviour that definitely featured 30 years ago.
Everyone coming off the pier was happy, smiling and compos mentis. And, yes, I’ll admit I was surprised – surprised but delighted. I venture to hope that improvements in the drinking area are in some part due to realistic education in school. I have no trouble at all with water into wine, the first miracle, after all.
Nor do I necessarily subscribe to the “early to bed and early to rise” bunch, for I fear that they will miss out on the many interesting people. As a fond grandparent of four amazing grandchildren growing up here, however, I am hugely concerned about the threat of drug damage to the upcoming generation.
Let’s not be mealy-mouthed here. Our generation experimented with the booze (and the fags) to the detriment of many. I remember being offered a purple heart at a Scottish patriot rally in the days of Wendy Wood, in Glasgow in the early 1960s.
Fortunately for me I was happy in my skin and did not consider the offer. But I do remember a close friend who, like many, had succumbed to slimming pills (the brand was withdrawn, fortunately, since they operated on the principle that you didn’t eat, for you didn’t sit down long enough to do that, and the side effects were that you might want to strip wallpaper at 3am).
A very dear Whalsay student contemporary said to me (having heard that I was trying Durafet M): “Lass. du’s no tae dö yun. Dey’ll gie de wirms.” Probably that’s how they affected weight loss.
So how can we reach our youngsters with the right message? Once upon a time, sport would have been an incentive. Regrettably, with performance-enhancing properties promised, this is not an answer.
Nor is it any use to “preach” if the time is not right, for fear of doing more harm than good. I’m sure we can all think of occasions when parents tried to point out the error of our ways. How did we react? Not positively must be the answer for most of us.
I would be very interested to hear any comments from teachers, parents or grandparents or any interested parties. I know that there is likely to be feedback from Christian believers, but since the church has now lost three generations, it is very difficult to approach the problem from a spiritual point of view with the current generation of youth. They see religions merely as a debate on who has got the best imaginary friend.