That should really read “where have all the gentlemen gone”, and I should point out for the benefit of certain of my readers that there are definite “gentlemen” within my acquaintance…
People always say that London is a rude city. That no-one gives you a seat on the tube, that if you happen to fall down the escalators you’re as likely to be robbed by passing opportunists as helped to your feet. My experience over the weekend went entirely against everything people tell you.
Because there’s nothing quite so fabulous about London as it’s ability to surprise you. The surprises began for me in a way entirely unrelated to the subject of this post, during rush hour as I lugged my luggage from Marylebone Station and Edgeware Road tube stop. A mass of cars and hackney cabs jostled noisily with big red buses for their spot in the traffic, speeding through the bleak heavy rain, reluctant to heed the traffic lights that forced them to let me cross the road.
I’m in a daze of roadside engine noise and spray until, for a brief moment, it seems a quiet descends. A bright, sharp bell rings as, amongst the taxis and buses, a perfectly coiffed, silver-haired lady on an upright bike with basket, white blouse and blue skirt billowing in her wake, carves her path. A ray of sunshine in the smog, she gave me a moment’s thought that really brightened my evening.
As for gentlemen, I saw two young men pick up strangers’ suitcases for them, one leave his girlfriend’s side to carry a lady’s bike up the escalator and one take the bottom of a woman’s buggy to help her down the stairs. All at different tube stops – this is not the London I am always warned of!
In fact it was upon leaving London on Sunday that I met with bad manners…
I was planning to sleep on the train home, but unfortunately the train stopped at Wembley and picked up a mob of Chealsea and Man Utd supporters who felt drinking, swearing and singing (tunelessly, of course) were acceptable behaviour in the quiet coach and in the company of children. I almost lost my temper… I just wanted to shoud “Oi! Some of us are trying to sleep off a weekend of excesses here!” I could feel the rage rising as I asked myself what it was that gave them the right to disregard everyone around them (though I’ve a feeling the answer to that particular question may have been in the cans of special brew in their clutches!), but I swallowed my anger down on the basis that I was seriously out-numbered.
Unfortunately my forced calm didn’t last. As we left the train at Leamington, a middle-aged man with a boy of no more than 8 started chanting right in my ear. I turned to face him, a split second decision I didn’t even think through, and gave him my coldest glare. He, in return, lunged right in my face, shouting at the top of his voice. And I saw red.
I suggested, somewhat unwisely, that he may like to set a decent example for the boy by showing a little respect for other people.
I know, I shouldn’t have provoked him, but I was furious. He just carried on singing at me, so I gave him one more withering look and walked out of the station, careful to hold my head high and look anyone I encountered in the eye. Some of the lads had stopped singing – I think more in surprise at being challenged (or confusion brought on by drunken stupor) than anything else, but no-one challenged me.
I was, at this point, in something of a state, but I kept walking. I wanted to call someone, to hear a friendly voice and tell them what a stupid thing I’d just done, but I couldn’t even think who I could call! My mind was a blank.
About halfway home I had to walk past three lairy lads chugging from cans of lager, smoking and jeering at passersby. Unsurprisingly, one started up a few paces ahead of me: “Hey, look, its the girl of your dreams…” and they other two naturally joined. in. I just blanked them – I was still shaking – really shaking – from the face-off with Football-Dad. As I passed they notched it up, “You wouldn’t say no, though would you, I mean, you could do a lot worse…” were the only non-obscenities that I’m willing to type here…
By the time I got home I was shaking uncontrollably, practically panting from pure, adrenalin-fed anger, and I simply burst into frustrated tears. Where have all the young gentlemen gone? Why do we let the mob take over? Why are we so afraid to stand up to them? And how can we ever expect change if the example we’re setting is so poor?