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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 75 - Good manners just a fond memory in our cut-and-thrust age

IN the dear, dead days almost beyond even my recall, one could enjoy travel by train. In often well-upholstered compartments holding eight to ten passengers, one could relax with fellow travellers reading their newspapers, doing crossword puzzles, staring out at urban and rural life flashing past or merely sagging in a light, rhythmic stupor.

These days have disappeared like puffs of old engine smoke. Carriages, often resembling airliner interiors have eliminated the slightest trace of even semi-privacy. In them, one hears not only the mingled surge and thunder of locomotion, general conversational murmur, wail of children but also, like tropical flies that refuse to be discouraged, the all-pervasive mobile phone users.

One, on a train journey from London recently, was obviously a management mandarin, barking orders, discussing promotion assessments of staff, chatting up his (presumably) secretary and when not phoning, receiving calls of an apparently vital nature. I had no interest in his appraisal of the performance of Consolidated Corsets or City of Hankow Tramways, but the commercial lord of the rings seemed oblivious to any passenger irritation.

In my cut-on-the-bias view, his intrusive action was an example of the lack of consideration for others in a Britain that nowadays increasingly believes that good manners is surplus to requirements, where "please" is a lost cause, "thank you" about as rare as a snowdrop in the Sahara and the word "sorry" is heading for extinction.

Sceptical? Let me reveal that my views are shared by 1,000 well-mannered people polled on the subject by the magazine, Good Housekeeping. They believed that the country should be called "Ingrate Britain" for the disappearance of "thank you" letters for presents, failure to reply to invitations, answering a mobile call during lunch with friends and - disgracefully - asking who else was going to a dinner party before deciding to go themselves.

High on the Richter Scale of bad manners and upsetters of my digestion are noisy diners in restaurants whose voices sound as if broadcast through railway station loudspeakers and who obviously want others to sample the rich cream of their wit and wisdom.

Recently, my wife and I had dinner in a small Edinburgh restaurant. All was quiet and candle-lit until a party of 12 young men and women settled in for an evening of revelry that at its height sounded like a miniature version of the storming of the Bastille.

I asked them - politely, be-cause several males seemed about six feet, four inches in height - to quieten their carousing. They hooted derisively.

The cowed proprietor said: "They are just enjoying themselves". But we weren’t, so, with two other like-minded diners, we left.

Such behaviour, admittedly extreme, is indicative of a growing boorish quality in Britain shown in widespread binge-drinking among the young and downwardly immobile, increasing instances of road rage, supermarket fury (inordinately long time taken by customers to find their cheque books or credit cards at check-out counters) and a general reluctance to acknowledge helpful acts such as offering a seat on a bus to somebody or holding a shop door open for other customers to enter. When people surge past without even a grateful nod to me, I shout as they disappear into the crowd: "Thank you for allowing me to hold open the door for you." But all that falls on indifferent ears.

We live in a coarse climate where sexual scenes are shown on TV that would make the Kama Sutra seem a mere, extravagantly-detailed, instruction book on indoor athletics, where TV and radio presenters have turned rudeness into a fine art by incessantly interrupting those they interview and where good behaviour in restaurants, shops, libraries and other public places is often governed by the whims of children allowed by parents to run riot.

Reasons for the erosion of good manners are said to be the so-called 24/7 lifestyles led by so many young people with no time for gratitude or politesse or because they are no longer regarded as necessary in this increasingly cut-and-thrust, "get on or get out" age.

Whatever the reasons, there are pockets of good behaviour left. A reader has sent me a bottle of whisky in appreciation, he wrote, of one of my columns. To him, I offer my heartfelt thanks. There’s good stuff still in people and there’s more of it going into me.

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