Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 20 November

Should you intervene when yobs are causing havoc – or stay safely on the sidelines? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I’m 91. Near my house is a bit of rough ground and recently two boy racers were driving a car round and round it, doing handbrake turns and creating a huge amount of dust and noise. I asked them if there was anything wrong; they looked sheepish – or one did – but the other said he was testing the handbrake. Then they left. My neighbour was appalled and said I shouldn’t have intervened. What do you think?
Mary Balfour, Leighton Buzzard

Dear Mary,
Well, it is a risk. At your age, I’m not surprised your neighbour was concerned. On the other hand, it sounds as if you weren’t confrontational and gave them a chance to offer a face-saving explanation for their thoughtless behaviour. And they stopped.

Earlier this month I read a horrifying story in the Daily Mail: Liz Stout went to Ikea in north London where young children were pulling items off the shelves to torment one of the workers. She held up her camera phone and told the children she was going to call security. The next thing she knew, she was being harassed by a much older child – of whom the others were satellites apparently – who picked up a chair as a weapon and threatened to inflict serious injuries upon her. Only the intervention of one male bystander rescued her from violent assault. She says she will never go back to Ikea and never put herself at risk again.

The story has depressingly familiar features: the person taking action quickly becomes isolated while others look away and pretend nothing is happening. They might even start blaming that person for the situation. In this case, you wonder how things had got to this pass. All too often, a defeatist nothing-to-be-done attitude is lurking in the background.

Intervention must be approached with extreme caution. What looks like thoughtless naughtiness might be something far worse. Don’t do anything in haste. If possible, gather photographic evidence without being seen. Make sure malcontents can never find out where you live. Make sure other adults are nearby. If you can, involve police or security guards.

On the other hand, very often responsible people aren’t prepared to act in consort where it would be perfectly safe to do so. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. Thus the message is conveyed (and remember gangs will often have only one really nasty person who leads the others on) that thoughtless, rude behaviour is acceptable. Nobody seems to mind, so why not join a gang going round Ikea hurling flatpacks off the shelves? Once I was on a Tube train crowded with adults where a small group of unaccompanied nine-year-olds were creating havoc with litter and noise. Nobody did a thing.

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT… Mistaken Identity

At a function recently a stranger stepped up and accused me of being Robert Peston. On another occasion a lady in an art gallery was a bit more subtle and wouldn’t say who she thought I was, but I knew. She meant Robert Peston. The first case makes you wonder what it must be like to actually be Robert Peston, having people bowling up to you all the time demanding to know if you’re Robert Peston. It must be rather relentless and undermining of the identity.

But what, as with me, if you’re not Robert Peston? I have to say – and please attribute this to my own vanity and self importance – I was not pleased by the comparison. All the same, it is true to say that two people can look alike and one be deliriously attractive and the other… But women friends assure me Robert Peston is thought vastly alluring.

There was a story recently about two men who sat next to each other on an aeroplane and found they were lookalikes. They were thrilled and ‘hung out’ together on arrival. So you never know.

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