Last week’s testing train journey is followed by sunshine on the tracks. We are about to leave Edinburgh. The guard has blown his whistle. The doors are closing and a young woman jumps breathlessly onto the carriage. She plonks herself down beside me. Her pretty face peeps out of a head scarf.
From her bag she takes a fork and a container of what looks like rice, or couscous. She smiles and proffers the dish. ‘Please…’ My travelling companion explains that she is from Sudan. As a Muslim it is important that she shares her food.
It does look good. But having just wolfed down a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, I politely decline. Which, as it happens, is the right thing to do. I later learn that to accept the first offer of food is not quite polite. Indeed, one should wait for the third invitation before diving in, eating irons at the ready.
Kindness to strangers is built into Muslim teaching. I am truly touched by the gesture – and also a little ashamed. When I think of the times I have selfishly gobbled down a packet of crisps, or chomped my way through a chocolate bar.
Sharing, we are told, is a life skill – and the Scots have traditionally been very good at it. Rumour has it that in ancient times a guest of a Highland chief would not be asked about his business until he had stayed at least a year. These days my chief is a firm believer in the fish test. A visitor is nice and fresh on day one. Day two, he’s a bit iffy, and by day three, he’s definitely going off…
In times past the local laird was expected to leave the door open during the night in case a passing stranger needed shelter. Mind, it could get out of hand. The story goes that the son of a MacGregor of Glenstrae was killed by a Lamond of Cowal. Lamond allegedly rushed into his victim’s father’s house and the old man had to reluctantly feed and water his child’s slayer – and, in the morning, let him go.
Even the poorest crofter would be expected to share what he had with a stranger. Then that was then. Offer someone a bite of your burger whilst lunching on a park bench and you’re likely to be reported for harrassment.
The MacNaughties are not big into sharing. Like children they muddle along until one has the squeaky toy the other wants. If the Norfolk finds something edible on the kitchen floor he will quietly carry it off to a corner where he can enjoy the experience – alone. The spaniel would never dream of sharing his bone and has decided that licking the yoghurt carton is a well-won solitary right.
Unlike children, my dogs will never learn the joys of sharing. After my latest travel experience I plan to do more of it. If you see someone passing round sweeties on the platform, it may well be me…