An outbreak of good manners

I am so used to lamentation – my own, that is – that I know that I am sometimes inclined to overlook how much better certain things have become of late years. We notice deterioration; we take improvement for granted the moment they have occurred.

Among the things that have improved in the London Underground. I spent most of my early life in London but am now only an occasional visitor, and I never cease to be astonished by the improvement in the underground service. The trains are cleaner, more rapid, more frequent better-ventilated, roomier and quieter than I remember them. I recall with a kind of condescending or indulgent amusement that the civilised are inclined to employ towards the primitive that people once actually smoked in them and took the fug for granted, as a quasi-natural phenomenon.

Another thing by which my wife and I have been surprised is the politeness of the passengers: they invariably stand up for her and when they see that I am with her, they stand for me too. They do so with an ease, grace and naturalness that that suggests that their politeness is habitual. Even those whom I would otherwise tend to regard as tattooed monsters often offer us this courtesy. Sometimes I don’t even have to be with my wife for a seat to be given up for me.

Of course, there is a cloud to any silver-lining, such as this of politeness persisting into modern times. I find it particularly alarming to be offered a seat when I am not with my wife. When I look in the glass I do not see the kind of face that, in my youth, would have induced me (thanks to strict maternal training) to give up my seat to the man who had it. No, I am far too young for that. In my youth, I offered my seat only to the old, or to ladies (and every adult female was a lady). Now that I am on the receiving end of such consideration, I begin to wonder how I must appear to others: old, worn-out, wizened, even incapacitated?

Whether I should accept causes me some heart-searching. To do so means acceptance that I do not appear to others as I appear to myself, which is painful. But not to do so is ungracious and ungrateful – one must learn to receive as well as to give – and risks extinguishing such small but encouraging signs of persisting common decency. In general, then, I accept, surprised at how much of a physical relief to me it sometimes is to do so.[pullquote]

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8 Comments on An outbreak of good manners

  1. Like Dalrymple, I am quite often struck by how nice people are on the Underground, though this niceness is heavily concentrated in one particular demographic – young middle class white women, and to a lesser extent men. Those who see me with my walking stick will very often offer me a seat. My 10 year old son is also often offered a seat though he doesn’t really need it – in fact the deference offered to children by adults these days is often somewhat unnerving.

    I suspect one reason for the niceness is the Europeanisation of the travellers, many of these notably nice seem to be continental Europeans, and their behaviour may have rubbed off on the natives.

  2. I am only slightly younger than Anthony but I have yet to experience a young person offering me their seat on the tube or, indeed, on any other kind of public transport. I must be doing well!

  3. MH: I think the Conservatives should stop caring about whether people like them or not. Being in government is not about being liked, it’s about getting on with the job of government. I know, by the way, that I’m out of touch with touchy-feely cities like London, and also out of touch with most people roughly my age (I’m 38). Most ethnic minorities, for example, are never going to vote for the Conservatives no matter how “nice” they try to be to them, because Labour will also be able to trump the Tories on the types of policies they usually support.

    • Getting on with the job and being liked are not mutually exclusive. People understand the need for tough government. Its the sour ‘everything is wrong with the world’ attitude which alienates people. There is a property owning middle class vote out there among prosperous Indian shopkeepers and professional classes.

  4. I too commute to inner London by tube. Like Theodore Dalrymple young people get up for me so often I have resorted hiding in the corner by the sliding doors with my cap pulled well down over my ears.

    Mana suffers from what I call the Corbyn Suicide Syndrome.

    ‘Jeffrey Corbyn throws himself in front of an oncoming train to rescue a small child who has fallen between the lines. To most people, notwithstanding Corbyn’s vile politics, this is a heroic act. To people suffering from the CSS (Corbyn Suicide Syndrome), it is a political stunt and typical of the lengths the left will go to get votes. Maybe Labour Central Office arranged to throw the baby in front of the train?’

    Similarly, everything on Mana’s morning tube looks evil and vile, every gesture a threat from the left, or a sign of a general decline in society. Mana is like the BBC over Trump, there is nothing Trump could ever do to make the BBC praise him.

    It is a common attitude among fellow conservatives and explains why we are still in power but are loathed by so many people. People want a conservative government, they know we are good with money, but they find it very difficult to cope with such negativity.

    • You are laying it on a bit thick Mr Harris. I’m really not sure what to make of your rambling reply. Perhaps you just object to me talking down our great British Underground Railway.

      “Corbyn Suicide Syndrome”!? Some folks like to coin a phrase. You have managed to coin a whole mental affliction. You then go on to compare me to “the BBC over Trump” – now that is a low blow!

      No, “everything on Mana’s morning tube” does not look evil and vile. I just object to inconsiderate and aggressive behaviour. Incidentally, I see more of that kind of thing on my evening tube ride home.

      Anyway, I stand by my original comment. That is my experience of commuting, mainly on the Northern Line. Journey time approximately 1 hour out, 1 hour return, 5 days a week. That gives me quite a hefty dose of the commuter experience. What is your dosage and on which line?

      Perhaps you would like me to strike a more positive note: I can say that tube travel is better than riding on our yob-infested buses.

      I also stand by my comment about Louis Armstrong’s embarrassingly sentimental hit.

      • By coincidence the same line Northern but from south London? Five times a week, half an hour each way, but not at 8.30 when it is so crowded it is impossible to assault one’s fellow travellers, even pull a left wing face. During the day, I can’t think of an incident as you describe. As for the buses, A Virgin train (its loos and their immediate environs smelling like an old people’s home) timed its arrival just as the Northern line had shut, forcing me to take the night bus to Clapham. By your account, one would expect to take one’s life in one’s hands getting on at 12.30 at night. Friendly driver, and apart from a yob playing his iPad out loud who turned it down when I asked, a peaceful trip. Also a wonderful, fast (40 minute) tour of London’s landmarks by night from the top deck. There are lots of very bad things about living in our postmodern nightmare, but London’s transport system is not one of them.

  5. I am a daily commuter on London Underground and I do not recognise the level of politeness Mr Darymple writes about.

    As the tube has become more crowded, especially in the rush hour, passengers have become more pushy, selfish and bad tempered. I regularly see young people occupying the seats intended for “those less able to stand” and showing not the slightest inclination to move for an older person.

    Noise is a constant problem, with hissing music leaking from headphones, groups of people engaging in loud raucous conversations and, a recent innovation, people playing back noisy video clips on their mobile phones. In recent years London Underground has subjected travellers to repetitive automated anouncements on their trains. These can be ear-splittingly loud and are often quite pointless (unless you believe the myth that they exist for the benefit of blind people).

    Another problem more likely to occur outside the busiest times is aggressive confrontation. There have been several incidents where I have been threatened by aggressive youths who seemed to be deliberately looking for trouble. Then there is the vexed question of personal space – how much is a passenger entitled to before they provoke a confrontation? This can lead to irritable and petty conflicts over such things as who has the right to use an armrest. On a several occasions women seated next to me have pointedly pushed, shoved and elbowed me probably as some sort of assertion against “male privilege”. One self declared feminist accused me of “manspreading” as she repeatedly spread her opened newspaper in front of my face (to make point I suppose – she didn’t seem to be reading).

    In his final years Louis Armstrong released that cringe making record “Wonderful World”. Is Mr Darymple, in his old age, starting to suffer from similar sentimental delusions?