Brian Viner: Don't despair: polite people do still exist

Share
Related Topics

Trying to find uplifting words in the national press can be like fishing for marlin in Lake Windermere, so I am indebted, as Cyril Fletcher used to say on That's Life! to John Grist, whose letter in these pages yesterday put a spring in my step and a song in my heart.

Mr Grist and his wife are in their mid-eighties and live in south-west London. They find that the popular depiction of modern Britain as a land of boors, bullies and bad manners does not tally even remotely with their experience of travelling round London on public transport, often with shopping bags. "We meet nothing but good manners," Mr Grist concluded, "and they are British."

If he will pardon the pun, these sentiments are grist to the mill for those of us who maintain that in 21st-century Britain all is far from lost, courtesy-wise. We are still a friendly lot, too, on the whole. My wife passed three strangers while walking the dogs on the downs yesterday morning, and all three ventured a cheery hello and a platitude about the weather. Britain won't go to the dogs while people are exercising their dogs (often with pooper-scoopers, which were unknown 20 years ago).

Meanwhile, pleases and thank-yous abound, doors are usually held open, and harassed mums wrestling push-chairs up flights of steps are generally given a helping hand. Whenever I am luckless enough to find myself on the London Underground at rush hour, I quite often vie with the man sitting opposite me to offer an elderly person my seat. The impulse is largely selfish, slaking the desire to make me feel good about myself, and partly born of the fanciful notion that a youth might see me and be inspired to do the same one day for a woman in her eighties who will happen to be my mother. But good manners don't really need analysis. They just are.

It was my mother who taught me mine, and I have tried to pass them on. In our middle child, 13-year-old Joe, my wife and I have raised a boy who is possibly over-polite. It was his birthday last week. "Happy birthday," I said, when he came into our bedroom that morning. "Happy birthday," he replied. A few days later he complained that his manners had landed him in trouble at school. During a lesson a classmate returned the ruler he had lent her. "Thank you very much," he whispered, and was promptly reprimanded for talking in class.

It is often said, and more often barked, that good manners cost nothing. This is true, yet they have a precious value. They are a civilising influence, in an age when it is easier than ever to lack civility. The mobile phone, of all the accoutrements of modern life, encourages an inconsiderate attitude towards other people. Perhaps those who sit on trains suffering from the delusion that all their fellow passengers might care to overhear what Siobhan from accounts said when Simon from the sales force asked her out (and that's one of the more interesting exchanges I've been subjected to lately) would, in a mobile-free world, find other outlets for their thoughtlessness. But let's be kind, and give them the benefit of the doubt. I think most people are innately polite.

Scheduled for next Monday evening on ITV, though, is an edition of the Tonight programme subtitled Bad Manners Britain. "Have we become a nation of louts?" it asks, a question pretty much answered by the title. Still, Mr and Mrs Grist think there's hope, and that's good enough for me.

Bernard never had a chance

What's in a name? Everything, yet nothing. My wife, who has negligible interest in boxing, asked me on Saturday why I was willing to wake up in the dead of night to watch live coverage of Joe Calzaghe's fight in Las Vegas. "Who's he fighting?" she said. "A guy called Bernard Hopkins," I said. She shrieked with irreverent laughter. "You're kidding? Bernard Hopkins? That sounds like someone my mum and dad play bowls with in Barnsley." I had to admit she had a point. There's no reason why it should, yet it's amazing how often the sporting greats are blessed with exactly the right names: Pele, Diego Maradona, George Best, Zinedine Zidane, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Emil Zatopek, Tiger Woods. We'll overlook Wayne Rooney.

* Two days ago, a Republican voter in Pennsylvania was asked what he disliked about Barack Obama. "He's just like Jimmy Carter," came the half-sneered reply. "Full of good intentions." Those enduring good intentions have just carried the 83-year-old Carter to Jerusalem, where, at an age at which most ex-presidents find fulfilment in completing a round of golf, he is trying to broker negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Yet to most Americans, Democrats as well as Republicans, his one-term presidency, launched with a barrage of good intentions, is still a byword for muddle-headedness. They issue grave warnings that Obama might turn out like Carter, a fellow with a Nobel Peace Prize in his locker, and an altogether strange kind of bogeyman.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Getty images

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel