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.
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
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.
asked them - politely, be-cause several males seemed about six feet, four
inches in height - to quieten their carousing. They hooted derisively.
cowed proprietor said: "They are just enjoying themselves". But we
weren’t, so, with two other like-minded diners, we left.
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.
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