Friday, 05 February 2016

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 5 February

Should children vacate seats when older folk need them? Yes, says Thomas Blaikie, and seniors should stand up for their rights

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Recently I was astonished to see an elderly lady getting on a bus and going straight up to a small boy. ‘Little boy,’ she said, ‘I’m a lot older than you and I’m having your seat.’ I could see her point, but was this quite the right way to go about it? The child looked alarmed, incidentally, and scuttled away.
Bernadette Mansbridge, Barnstaple

Dear Bernadette,
No, on the contrary. Full marks to her. Many of us are of the generation that was never allowed to sit down in adult company until the age of at least 30. I don’t know why, 40 years ago, there was such a terrible shortage of seats – but there was and that was the end of it.

Sitting down, in any circumstances, was considered a dubious activity for any child, as well as unhealthy. ‘Why aren’t you out of doors?’ grown-ups would say. ‘Aren’t you feeling well? In which case, have some Milk of Magnesia and go to bed for the rest of the day.’ Usually one didn’t take the bed option, for fear that a parent would loom with an appalling foodstuff called calf’s foot jelly. These days, not only do the young not live in fear of vile medicines (cod liver oil was another) but they occupy all available seats, not just sitting but lounging. Lounging! If I’d lounged I’d have been set to gardening in the rain for a week. Now, adults are standing, hovering around the precious children like waiting staff and then crawling on the floor to speak to them at their level in an unthreatening and terribly caring way.

It’s all gone too far. Older people are quite right to stand up for themselves and biff small children out of seats on public transport and in other places. It’s the only way. When there are no children about, the elderly are graciously offered somewhere to sit without having to ask. But offspring in tow, it’s another story, not dissimilar from the awful grisly bear attack in The Revenant: ‘Oh, it’s their right to sit down. They might be injured or flung about by a sudden lurching of the vehicle. They’ve got their colouring book’ – or iPad more likely. What nonsense! If a child is old enough to sit in a seat on public transport (ie, not be carried or in a pushchair) they are old enough to cling on to whatever pole or handle is provided for those standing. The elderly are more vulnerable – there isn’t any debate about it. What isn’t so clear is the point at which a person becomes old enough to command a seat. Perhaps you would like to offer your thoughts on that issue. Do please write in.

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

WHAT TO DO ABOUT… ‘Have a lovely day’

It’s mean to complain that people are too nice but I can’t help it. I’ve noticed of late that shop and hotel staff, people on the phone from the electricity company, etc, have passed through the stage of saying ‘Have a nice day’ by way of farewell (which was itself imported from America and not entirely welcome). Now they have ascended to new baroque heights. They say, ‘Have a lovely day’ or even ‘Have a lovely day’. I see their problem. ‘Look after yourself’ or ‘Take care’ might seem overfamiliar, ‘Goodbye’ too curt. But ‘Have a lovely day’…? Where do these phrases come from? Are they issued by some sinister central marketing agency?

‘Lovely’ is just a bit whimsical and also burdensome. One is not likely to have a totally and utterly lovely day on the whole. The strain of trying for such a thing could be killing. If there were only the choice of one or the other, I’d much prefer the weak and unexciting ‘nice day’ to the ‘lovely day’. But ‘Have a nice day’ has got worn out and had to be replaced. Let’s hope they think of something better than ‘lovely’ soon.

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