In a startling initiative, the French state-owned railway SNCF is sending out 3,000 inspectors to travel on trains and teach unruly passengers some manners. They’re to keep their eyes peeled for the hooliganish behaviour that’s risen by 25 per cent in a year among the four million French men and women who travel by train every day: spitting, being rude to ticket checkers, spitting at ticket checkers, damaging seats, putting their feet on seats, playing music too loudly, lighting cigarettes, talking loudly on mobiles, and pulling the emergency brake cord for larks.
Frankly, I expected better of the French. I thought their misbehaviour would be more subtle. I assumed the rudeness police would crack down on would be: a) excessive shrugging; b) ungallant remarks about the sex life of Valérie Trierweiler; c) the use of English words or borrowings in conversation (“wi-fi”, “blog,” “La Route Seule Est Essex”); d) the drinking of New Zealand white rather than Sancerre in the dining car; e) any mention of the Tour de France.
Sadly, it seems French yobbery is just as bad as ours. (Although we don’t spit at ticket inspectors. In fact, we seldom spit in anger at all; it’s an unusually Gallic insult.) But the rest – the feet on seats, mobiles, music, damage and cord-pulling – is horribly familiar. So can we do what they’re doing? Can we sign up 1,000 “politeness mediators” to travel around looking for outbreaks of rudeness? I’d love to see them in action.
I’d love to see a politeness inspector explain to the Canadian tourist on the Tube that his massive rucksack has now twice dented the Evening Standard being read by the fuming journalist behind him and just one more bump may cause violence. Or tell the commuter outside Paddington that putting his briefcase, his Upper Crust ham ’n’ cheese lunch and Costa coffee on the seat beside him does not stop it being an Empty Seat that this lady wishes to sit on. Or insist that, if a chap’s headphones are so rubbish that music leaks out of them, it’s illegal for the leaked music to be by Kraftwerk.
I’d like to watch a politeness inspector tell the chap in the West Ham T-shirt on the Central Line that saying to a nervous girl “Allo darlin’ – wotch yoo good at then?” is not a polite chat-up line. And wake up those lanky gits on the 6.30 to Petersfield to tell them that, if they sprawl, fast asleep, with their great long legs in the aisle, a chap negotiating his way back from the bar cannot get past without giving them a good kick. And tell the ladies on the Haslemere-London trip that it will be impolite if their discussion about the likelihood of the Duchess giving birth to triplets runs for more than 95 minutes…
It ain’t over till Macca sings
So that’s it. The last ever print copy of The Dandy rolled off the presses this week. After 75 years, Korky the Cat, Desperate Dan and the rest of the madcap crew will be seen only in some hellish digital mode. And what’s the best way to mark the passing of a great enterprise? Why, call in Sir Paul McCartney! The indefatigable Sir Paul (or a flatteringly youthful version of him) does indeed appear in the final issue of the comic. But then he turns up at the end of everything. Neil Young in Hyde Park. Springsteen in Hyde Park. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert. The Olympics opening ceremony. The final Dandy. Is it now enshrined in law that the ex-Beatle appears, singing “Hey Jude”, at the close of every event? Will he be there at the dissolution of Parliament? The end of the royal pregnancy?