Sunday 18 November 2018

Midlife: Bairbre Power

'Pregnant women would have been automatically offered a seat years ago, but now they have resorted to wearing 'Baby On Board' badges on the London tube network with only mixed results.' Stock Image: PA
'Pregnant women would have been automatically offered a seat years ago, but now they have resorted to wearing 'Baby On Board' badges on the London tube network with only mixed results.' Stock Image: PA
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

If his Irish mother had seen him, I'd say she'd have given him a clip on the ear or one of those 'Really?' folded arms, silent stares that mammies across the world are so proficient at and which we have hot-wired into our parenting DNA kit because it works so well.

Either way, mammy back in Ireland would have glared disapprovingly at him for not giving up his seat and I suspect that thought was rattling through both our heads as we travelled in a crowded London tube towards Heathrow Airport.

The big strapping lad with the giveaway Irish complexion and sunburnt neck cradled his GAA sports bag on his lap. His eyes flickered across at me and then he concentrated them on his scruffy shoes. Another reason 'Da Ma' would have given out to him too.

This millennial was not for moving. Neither were all the other males of assorted ages seated in the carriage, and that's what caught my attention. It was virtually all men sitting down on those plastic seats and the people standing at either end included women of all ages.

A mum with two kids in posh school uniforms and Princess Charlotte haircuts clung to a bar.

A young woman with a Yorkshire terrier dog sporting a canine Dolly Parton hairdo with plaits, but she didn't seem to mind standing as she was engrossed on her phone.

Observing my fellow passengers on this sweaty, rush hour train, it was clearly every man and woman for themselves and as we slowly edged our way towards Heathrow, I couldn't help thinking about the lost art of chivalry.

What about the notion that 'manners maketh man'? That old 14th century chestnut has been well and truly sliced and diced in the modern age. Now I'm not a hopeless romantic thinking of gallant men throwing their cape across a puddle to save the woman's shoes. That's the stuff of movies and French literature. I'm talking basic good manners and courtesy here for everyone, like holding a door open for the next person and standing back to let you out of the lift before storming in competitively.

Is it so long ago that schoolboys, men and older men too would hop up immediately and offer their seat to a woman on a bus or train? The priests and nuns drummed it into us at school and our parents and grandparents too, but the rules of engagement when it comes to courteous, polite behaviour has changed.

Pregnant women would have been automatically offered a seat years ago, but now they have resorted to wearing 'Baby On Board' badges on the London tube network with only mixed results.

I was actually quite content to stand on that teatime tube because I'd spent most of the day sitting, either on a plane or for hours in a quiet British library - you can read all about it in Weekend magazine on Saturday and if you are a royal wedding watcher, it may interest you!

Anyway, back on the tube, I didn't have a suitcase to marshal so I balanced myself beside the hand bar and surveyed the carriage ahead of me. One of the bonuses of traveling is the people-watching. I'm constantly amazed at the people who only start filling their plastic bag of liquids when they get to the security check and hold everyone up. I like whiling away the hours observing what people wear, the comfy shoe brands I haven't come across before, the unusual neck pillows and what books they are reading.

I suspect the Irish lad did have a polite manners gene in there and in fairness to the millennial, he was landlocked in the centre of the carriage by an army of suitcases - it would have been a gymnastic feat to have got out over them to allow one of the ladies standing to have his seat. There were more guilty offenders, like the young upwardly mobile couple. She was brandishing the ubiquitous designer handbag and he sported a big watch and a tight shirt, all the better for showing off his achievements in the gym. Now maybe he had pulled a disc or done something awful to his latissimus dorsi or trapezius muscles that he needed his seat so badly because he never looked up from his pink newspaper.

I thought his lack of courtesy not to offer a seat to the young mum standing beside him was a real clue to the girlfriend... if she cared to recognise it.

Recently I had dinner with a dear friend who is cut from old-school manners and when I returned from the bathroom, my friend stood up as the waiter glided my chair under me. Lovely touch, but as rare as hen's teeth, I suspect. There was a time when it was a tenet of good etiquette not to put your elbows on the table and not to eat with your mouth full, but they are both history. Personally, I hate to see people tucking into their food while their fellow dinner companions are still waiting for their meals to arrive. Call me old-fashioned but I think that is the height of rudeness.

When we arrived at the airport, there was rush hour madness. Everyone seemed to be in survival mode. It made me wonder if we leave our manners at home when we travel. Are airports, train stations and traveling schedules so stressful that we pull on our combat jackets and just wheel that trolley over the next person's toes?

Just when I had almost given up, I was standing ready to disembark from a plane at JFK recently when a tall lad sitting across the aisle from me over the previous seven hours enquired if I would like him to lift down my case from the overhead compartment.

I was stunned. I've been wrestling with that back-breaking job for years and I took up his kind offer. He was so tall, my case was in line with his eyes. He handed it down to me and I smiled back a 'your mother raised you well' smile.

Good manners don't cost anything but they are a richness we should never lose.

Irish Independent

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