Why it pays to be polite - especially to gullible neighbours

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There must be a lesson to be learned from the 10-foot-high brick wall on to which we now stare from our kitchen. The architects of this wall, our neighbours, despite being 10 years our juniors are the most grown-up people we have ever met - they invited us round for a drink once and religiously took the bottle back to the kitchen every time they refilled our glasses - not, I think, because they didn't trust us but out of some quaint notion of etiquette. With such impeccable manners, they naturally consulted us every step of the way on their plans to convert their house in to a palace, and because they were so polite, it would have seemed churlish not to agree to replacing our view of trees with an enormous brick wall. This has meant entertaining their builders who have been constructing the wall just outside our French windows; it is a bizarre experience to sit eating your cornflakes in front of an audience who look away every time you look up. We began to feel like an exhibit from the Turner shortlist.

The lesson to be learned from the brick wall, by the way, is that it obviously pays to be polite. But I've noticed bus conductors don't see it that way. I've recently discovered public transport. Usually I travel on those little buses where the driver doubles as conductor, which have resulted in an epidemic of public politeness. Maybe it's the physical proximity of the driver, or simply recognition of his dual workload, but nine out of 10 passengers now say thank you when they disembark. No doubt as a reflection of their threatened status, the rudeness of the few remaining conductors seems to have increased. "Is there any room upstairs?" asked a German tourist on the number 10 bus. The conductor surlily replied that he didn't know; he never went upstairs because it gave him nose bleeds. It soon became clear that the man was a complete xenophobe. At Marble Arch an ancient American man got on - I think he was playing up to stereotype: "Oxford Street. Is this where the university is?" - but that was no excuse for the staggering rudeness of the conductor who told him to sit down "and stop breathing on me". I had intended to fill the slot in my social conscience left vacant by not having to boycott South African oranges with worrying about the job security of bus conductors. But if they're all like him, the sooner they're extinct the better.

The highlight of my week was interviewing childcare guru, Penelope Leach. Through her books she was a kind of surrogate mother to me so it was hard to restrain myself from kissing her feet, but I was determined not to do as other journalists had done that week, using the opportunity for free advice on their own children's sleeping problems. Nevertheless, as I did feel she had left me high and dry when the children reached the age of five (cut-off point for childcare manuals), I felt I might at least share with her some of my pride in the achievements of my first Leach baby, now 13. Just the day before I had sniffed his shirt and detected, for the first time, the whiff of a manly armpit. Now personally I think it's gross when American mothers celebrate their daughters' first period by throwing a menstrual shower or whatever it is they do, but I was surprised to find myself feeling pleased at this olfactory milestone. When they're little you boast to everyone about their first smiles and words - I don't see why you're not allowed to feel the same pride in their adolescent development. I would tell you more, but he won't let me in the bathroom for some reason.

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