Friday, 09 October 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 9 October

Thomas Blaikie is moved by the plight of a train traveller who is stopped in her tracks by the actions of a fellow passenger.

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I heard recently that we’ve got a new word, ‘manspread’, which is when men sit on public transport with their thighs aggressively flared so as to occupy the maximum surrounding space. Then, returning from Haywards Heath by train last Sunday, a horrendous new phenomenon reared up towards me. I was unable to sit with my seven-yearold daughter on the crowded train because a couple had spread their luggage all over the neighbouring empty seats and refused to move it. Indeed the man told me I was being ‘difficult’. I just couldn’t believe it.
Gayle Philpots, London

Dear Gayle,
Not for the first time recently, my jaw is on the floor. These people had no entitlement to occupy the empty seats and the guard ought to have told them so. Their behaviour was outrageously selfish. You could have moved the luggage yourself but probably it was too heavy. Besides, would you want to endure the rest of the journey in a state of bristling hostility with these ghastly people? It seems that, typically, none of the other passengers helped you. Possibly you could have asked them to. The man accused you of being ‘difficult’, thus conforming to the stereotype that men always talk about themselves. I wonder if that would have been his line if you had been a man or, indeed, accompanied by one.

Railway behaviour, in recent years, has declined across the board. Last-minute passengers without seat reservations illegally occupy the first class if they can’t find a seat elsewhere and refuse to pay. So perhaps I’m not surprised that we’ve reached the next stage, which is that the luggage is entitled to a seat as well as the person.

Maybe, in our ‘customer-focused’ age, train companies are excessively reluctant to impose any discipline on passengers. But they’ll pay for it in the end if they don’t. In the meantime, I understand that a woman accompanying a small child would want to avoid confrontation but flagrant carry-on of this kind must be fought. A possible approach could be to ignore the refusal to move items and treat the situation as a practical problem to be solved with the faintly threatening jollity and fearsome politeness of an old-fashioned headmistress. ‘Now this bag; is there anything breakable within? I think I can just manage to heave it onto the luggage rack.’ Another one presents perhaps a more formidable challenge: ‘Would you mind very much helping out? I could lift it onto the floor but might drop it – now wouldn’t that be a shame…’

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

What to Do About...Silly Waves

You may remember Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. Well, the time has come to open a similar ministry – but devoted to silly waves. The silly wave is now ubiquitous and surely should receive government backing, even in this age of austerity. To execute a perfect silly wave, the body is held stiffly, and the hand, raised only to the level of the chest or face, with the palm facing outwards, is flapped rather than waved in a limited area near the body. Used frequently as a pre-greeting or when friends and acquaintances, for whatever reason, are too far away for speech, the silly wave, often accompanied by giggles, is an ironic, or even embarrassed, kind of anti-wave.

To wave more expansively might be to claim the status of royalty and could appear condescending. So the silly wave is a retreat from all that. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s irritating when it is the only wave on view. Let’s expand the waving repertoire, remembering that gracious waving is a movement of the arm and hand, with no ungainly lurching about of the body. Remember poor Fergie’s early attempts at royal waving?

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