I complain loudly and regularly about the bad manners I encounter daily on the commute. The way that people completely ignore those around them, push and charge their way to the front, knock one another out of the way in their desperate attempts to be on the train first and secure a seat for the next 15 minutes… it is depressing, to say the least.
Yet, over the last couple of months I have noticed a backlash against the daily tide of malice. There is a certain silver-haired gentleman in a suit who has started to catch my train out of Leamington every day. He usually waits at the same end of the platform as I do. And when the train pulls in, he insists on stepping back to allow me access first. He does this even if I am behind him. He actively looks around for me and gestures to me to advance.
(I’m not suggesting that this behaviour is solely for my benefit, by the way, I am under the distinct impression that he would behave the same way toward any lady awaiting the train. But it seems “ladies” are few and far between on my commute, as the rest of the women tend to have pushed to the front already.)
Today, I noticed something quite remarkable about my fellow commuters’ reaction to this gentleman’s behaviour. One of the other fellas who shares my commute noted his actions. I saw him markedly watch the gesture, and hesitate… and then he stepped back, to also allow me to pass. I thanked them both and smiled, but on ascension into the carriage my smile extended into a beam as I realised what had just happened.
The gentleman’s good manners had proved catching!
I wonder, could this be the beginning of a turning tide, a return to values I thought we had long lost? It is often noted that, in times of hardship, while some people give in to baser tendencies and lean toward ‘survival of the fittest’, more still grasp firmly to ideals of etiquette and common courtesy. There is a scene in Firefly that always drives this point home for me, in which Kaylee is asking Simon why he clings so vehemently to his good manners and polite ways:
Kaylee: “What’s so damn important about being proper? It don’t mean nothing out here in the black.”
Simon: “It means more out here. It’s all I have… I mean… My way of being polite, or however it’s… well, it’s the only way I have of showing you that I like you. I’m showing respect.”
The idea of clinging to former glories is often seen as symbolic of inproper pride, and in certain circumstances, sticking rigidly to routine and to strict codes of behaviour – outdated codes of dress or social standing, for example – does betray a misplaced sense of self-importance. But to confuse this with good manners and respect for fellow mankind is ridiculous. Good manners and respect are what make us a “society” rather than a pack.
(I use the word “pack” deliberately: while pack animals do have authority figures, they tend to demonstrate their position through acts of submission rather than respect.)
I have commented before about the rise in numbers of flat caps and other headwear to be seen on menfolk in the street. I have also commented on the way in which vintage style also reflects vintage ideals. The rising popularity of events such as Vintage Goodwood and The Chap Olympiad (and other events connected with that rather marvellous publication!) make me believe that the dapper chaps of this world are not so much a dying breed as a rising wave.
Which brings a glimmer of hope to my bleak, commuter world.
On the corner of my road this evening I got my first taste of blackberries fresh off the bramble. A sure sign that summer is waning.