Friday's child

30th April 1999 at 01:00
Reva Klein on what it's like to be . . . a goody goody.

In a contemporary youth culture where bad means good, Maggie's goodness is strictly bad (in the original sense). When you're 13 and go to her school, you're not supposed to refer to your mum as mummy or still do piano and ballet, or always get your homework in on time and get good marks for it. Or, to add insult to injury, always have interesting things to contribute to class discussion, demonstrating not only that you're good but that you're quite good at thinking, too. Remember Sandy, the Olivia Newton John character in Grease, the only 18-year-old virgin in her school (until, sadly, she decides to get raunched up in order to get her guy)? Well, that's Maggie five years down the road.

No wonder she has only one friend - Lisa, a quiet girl who, like Maggie, doesn't appear to be caught in the miasma of designer clothes, confessional TV, cool speech that studiously avoids prepositions (as in "let's get sumfin t'eat and go park"), and an expenditure of energy at school conspicuous only for its minimalism. Part of Maggie's goodness - and lack of social status - is her facility to ignore the cliqueyness and manifestations of popular culture around her. Trouble is, Lisa's not as clever as Maggie and makes for a dull companion day in, day out.

Because Maggie is innately intelligent, she knows that if she played the game, watched the right telly programmes, talked about them in the playground, listened to the right music (instead of tapes of Dickens' novels) and dressed a bit less Clothkit-ishly, she'd blend in more. But she could no more do those things and feel comfortable about it than if she were suddenly to decide to assume a German accent. It's just not her.

As far as her teachers are concerned, that's fine with them. While they've noticed that she's a bit out on a limb socially, they're satisfied that it hasn't inhibited her classroom contributions or her standard of homework. She certainly doesn't appear to be miserable about the fact that she's different.

And she's not. She has a happy life at home that softens the hard edges she might experience at school. And she pursues stimulating activities after school and over the weekends, where she joins other goody goodies, as she's known at school.

With time, she'll find other children like herself in the vast comprehensive she attends and eventually connect up with them. But there won't be great armies of them - not now, not perhaps until early adulthood.

The consolation for her and her parents is that Maggie knows who she is, what she likes and what she doesn't, she knows what's right and what isn't and, although not stubborn, is firm in her beliefs. Which puts her in a minority against a consensus view that is, by and large, conformist and fuelled by immediate gratification.

It's so much easier to swim with the crowd when you're that age, to blend in with everyone else and be assured of friendship and party invitations. But to stand apart from the madding crowd - that takes integrity.

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