I got onto the train today and looked around. Four teenage boys in blue blazers were sitting in the seats nearest the door. Nothing unusual in that. Their black school shoes were scuffed and their grey trousers were all a little too short: uniform at the end of the school year. What was unusual was that each one had a open book in their hands and they were reading. I looked further up the carriage – I could see the backs of another two boys, heads down, reading and a man in white trainers, socks, smart shorts and a navy v-neck, also reading.
I know people read on trains, but school boys are normally only pointing at the headlines in an old copy of the Metro. It felt like I’d stumbled into something slightly strange, something being staged for a film perhaps: I liked the sight of the boys with their heads down in a book (yes, they were giggling and pointing at each other, and peeking over the seat backs at some girls in tight jeans, but essentially, they were reading.) There was something innocent and old-fashioned and not completely natural about it. And I was right. The train stopped, the man in shorts stood up and said something stern to the four of them (I couldn’t hear what), one boy moved obediently to another seat. The three remaining, settled down.
One was reading ‘Foul Play’, one ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’. I couldn’t see the third boy’s book – he kept it flat on his knees and was more interested in reading the four lines of instructions about what to do in case of an emergency (1: ‘Stay on the train’.) What was going on? A punishment from the PE teacher for forgetting their kit – reading from Kingston to Clapham Junction? A Merton Council literacy initiative – supervised reading on public transport, effectively preparing them for years of commuting? A sponsored read and ride by South West Trains? Who knows. Whatever the explanation, it was good to see. Give your child the gift of reading. Or else.