ANYONE interested in the manners and morals of the family should read Ralph Glaser's wonderful memoir Growing up in the Gorbals, published a few years ago in paperback. It is an inspiring story of life in the slums of Glasgow during the 1930s, when the Gorbals, famous all over the world for its rough tenement life, also included an element of Jewish immigrants from Russia such as Ralph Glaser's family.
Mr Glaser's memories about courtship and marriage rituals at the bottom of the social ladder are particularly noteworthy. You had many of the ingredients that you have today, including a propensity among teenagers towards early sexual experimentation. It was a conventional wisdom among social workers, going back through the 19th century, that working-class youngsters were more likely to be sexually experienced earlier than the protected middle class. And in some ways this tradition still lives on. "Academic" girls in nearly every society (including the Netherlands, significantly) are less sexually experienced than the "non-academic": that is to say, girls from better off families who stay on at school are more likely to be discrim Mating and careful in their relationships than girls from poorer families who leave school early. These last are more likely to be more sexually precocious, and nowadays, are more likely to be single mothers at an early age.
Ralph Glaser recalls quite well that in the 1930s teenage courtships could indeed go further than was strictly approved of by church and synagogue, and that, not unusually, a girl of 15 or 16 would be discovered to be expecting a baby. (The word pregnant was not publicly used until the late 1950s.) But when this occurred, the entire community, as it were, moved to ensure that the lad who was the father of the child would marry the young woman. The Gorbals expression had been: "he stamped her card". And that meant entering a "shotgun" marriage.
Very, very seldom did a youth get away with begetting a child without taking responsibility. He would have to run away and leave the community to do so, and even then, the family he left behind would be shamed by this display of blackguardism. The Gorbals community did not regard a pregnant bride as a great social disgrace; what they regarded as disgraceful was the lad "stamping her card" and not being a father to his child and a husband to his woman. In a general way, a pregnancy was a cause for celebration, rather than dismay.
Then we had the social revolution of the post-1945 years, which came to fruition in the 1960s, in which the concept of a "shotgun" marriage came to be deplored, even by the Churches. Young people should not marry "just because" they were having a child together. Young people should wait until they felt that special commitment that marriage entails. Meanwhile, the contraceptive pill gave men the general idea that all women were available and no one had to face the consequences of anything anyhow.
Flash forward to 1999, and a new survey by the Readers 'Digest, which has just revealed that in two-thirds of cases today, young men would refuse to marry the mother of their child, unborn or born. A Mori poll showed that the majority of males between 16 and 25 reject the notion that children need two parents to bring them up, and a majority of nearly 70 per cent would refuse to enter a "shotgun marriage" just for the sake of the child. The Readers' Digest has deplored this lack of commitment from young males, and blamed the "laddish" culture as represented by young men's magazines and TV programmes such as "Men Behaving Badly".
To be honest, I don't think young men in general have ever been anything but "laddish", left to their own devices. The editor of one of these lads' mags, Piers Henu, commented, in response to the survey: "It's a young bloke's job to get into some scrapes and find out what life's all about. If he doesn't, he's boring, and there's nothing worse than that." I imagine that exactly the same notions would have been expressed by the spokesman for Regency rakes or Renaissance Romeos. "Getting away with it" has ever been the name of the game. But societies which had a strong community base like the Gorbals — most effectively put pressure on the lads not to get away with it. They didn't go into fancy talk about "choice" and "commitment" and "developing a meaningful relationship". They said: "You've stamped her card, laddie, and now you'll do the decent thing." The poor have now been replaced by "the underclass" partly because a defeatist and complacent attitude has replaced the certainty and effectiveness of such community values.
P S SINEAD O'Connor has been repri P S SINEAD O'Connor has been repri manded by her mentor, veteran songstress Marianne Faithfull. "I love Sinead, but nobody can do anything to discipline her," says Ms Faithfull. And Sinead is going through a "particularly nutty" stage at the moment in proclaiming herself a priest. Marianne claims that the priestly vocation is mostly "a fashion statement". Sinead looked so terrific wearing a cassock for a Vogue fashion shot that she fell for the image. "She will be outraged by me saying this, but never underestimate what girls will do to look good." True, true.