​‘Manners maketh man’, or so the saying goes.  Thank God for that saying because sometimes I wonder whether it is just me?  Perhaps I have merely become more intolerant with age or are manners truly a rarity now?  Sadly, that is a rhetorical question very much confirmed by our recent foray to Wimbledon courtesy of Virgin trains.  Described in one word – torturous!  Seriously, I have to find that pot of gold pronto in order to fund my First Class travel in the future but there’s the rub – money doesn’t buy class and, even if it did, are manners a prerequisite of class?
‘Respect for ourselves guides our morals; respect for others guides our manners.’  Wise words from a certain Laurence Sterne – and, don’t worry, I also had to google him!  Anyway, back to respect to which manners are intrinsically linked.  How many times have I bemoaned the lack of respect in the world today and my particular bugbear is the lack of respect for one’s elders; in fact, I think that is the key.  Respect for one’s elders is something one is taught as a child and it must begin at home.  Without respect for one’s parents or that figure of authority then one’s ability to learn and, moreover, to become a decent human being is stifled.  There has to be a desire to please. 
Discipline. Boundaries.  Too many parents are too busy for those; too much like hard work.  In a world engulfed by technology, communication and family time have been assigned to days of yore.  Do you remember that wonderful film ‘Airplane’ which must have come out in 1980, if my memory serves me correctly?  Well, in said film, Leslie Nielsen famously describes a hospital as ‘a large building for sick people’, or words to that effect.  How long will it be before someone describes a table as ‘a piece of furniture for leaving things on’?!  Seriously, how many families still sit round a table for meals?  I dread to think and, for those who do, are phones as commonplace as cutlery?  All so sad.  The demise of the family meal has, in turn, meant the demise of table manners and the inherent ability to communicate.
Family meals are a cherished memory from my childhood.  My father is now in a home and our beloved Lyndhurst sold but I have that table around which we all used to sit and I am so glad.  It belonged to my paternal grandparents and, thus, was always promised to me.  If only it could talk …  Dinner was something to look forward to, particularly in the winter.  Days at school were long and, with lessons until 6.30pm, we didn’t get home until after 7.  My mother was renowned for her comfort food; everything was homemade and her stews were a great favourite as were her delicious puddings.  No, we weren’t the size of houses despite the fact that my brother’s nickname for me was ‘Hattie’ and mine for him, ‘The Blubber Kid’!  Obesity was not prevalent, then, in a world pre-fast food and ready meals; a world in which disposable meant paper cups and plates not time and people.
Meals were lively in our house whether it be just catching up on each other’s day or debating some triviality.  All strong willed, it was a daunting rite of passage for friends to witness – or worse, potential boyfriends/girlfriends!  Only those of a staunch disposition – and worthy of keeping – appreciated that it was all good-natured and just us. 
‘The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork.’  Oscar Wilde
I am completely obsessed by table manners; the way people eat.  Completely!  Who to blame?  I wasn’t aware of it being a big thing with my parents but, then, we all ate together round the table and we learned by example more than anything.  It was a given.  No, school is responsible and, more specifically, Martha, our infamous Headmistress.  Her regime meant that each of us was given a different table number at the beginning of every week and, thus, one had to sit and converse with 6 other girls from varying classes and houses; not one’s friends.  Just another Monday morning dread but it was a good thing.  Inevitably, one made new friends and was forced out of one’s comfort zone.
Many of the staff ate in the dining room with us sitting at the head of random tables. However, Top Table was the ‘main event’ so named as it was set on a platform from which Martha had the perfect view.  Each one of us had to take her turn at this table and it was truly daunting.  One’s manners were meticulously scrutinized from the way in which one held one’s knife and fork to one’s consideration for one’s fellow diners but it was the art of conversation which proved the most terrifying – and that coming from someone who rarely shuts up!  Martha would go round the table inviting comment on a topical subject and each of us had to oblige.  Superb training and invaluable, equipping us with every social skill required should we marry into royalty … deportment was already covered following Prayers, each morning, when we filed out of the Hall with our hymn books on our heads!  I jest but I am proud to have been a part of that world and subscribe to everything it taught me – and which is sorely lacking today.
I cannot believe the eating habits one is now forced to witness when entering the public domain!  Of course, the Quiet Carriage on the Virgin East Coast to Kings Cross was always going to be difficult, particularly as our reserved seats were next to each other rather than on opposite sides of the table ensuring we face two unknowns rather than one.  Both were already in situ, across a tiny table in a carriage which would appear to have shrunk, when we joined the train and the scene was set.  No room for bags or legs, it was lunchtime and the inevitable family bag of crisps appeared.  Why?  It was the Quiet Carriage!  Why do people insist on devouring crisps on a bus, train, in the cinema, anywhere other than in the privacy of their own home and why, for that matter, do they eat them one at a time from a bag which seems to be bottomless?!  It demonstrates a complete lack of consideration for anybody else but why should I be surprised?
Resigned to the crisps, the seemingly harmless guy then brought out his homemade sandwiches wrapped in foil with ‘trouble’ written all over them.  Becca was dreading my reaction as he began to salivate, chewing and swallowing each mouthful with the decorum of a … typical person today.  Why denigrate a pig in swill?!  The sad fact is, he was oblivious, no doubt eating his sandwiches the way he has always done and with no consideration for anybody else.  No need.
Add to this the sound effects of the passenger to my rear for whom the concept of a handkerchief was alien.  Constant sniffing and snorting is just unacceptable but, once more, he knew no different.  He didn’t care.  Neither did the young mother who, unfortunately, chose to sit directly behind Manny and myself, on our return journey, with a toddler and her older sister.  The attention-seeking toddler proceeded to scream ‘Mameeee’ at the top of her voice, constantly, until they disembarked at Berwick having obviously missed their Newcastle stop!  The mother made no attempt to amuse the child and wasn’t in the least bit embarrassed but, whilst we were not alone in our frustration, in this politically correct world nobody dared comment … and Manny wouldn’t let me!
I feel as though I have only scraped the surface.  Anybody still with me?  Manners, or the lack of, is an endless subject but eating habits are truly the worst.  I have to train myself not to look beyond our table in restaurants as fellow diners hold their knives like pencils or shovel the contents of their plate into a gaping orifice!  I suppose one should be grateful that there are still some fellow beings who hold their cutlery in the correct hands …  The same gruesome sight greets one on television and First Dates is scary!  Enough.  I haven’t even touched on driving.
Manners impinge on absolutely every aspect of life and offer a transparency of character of which most are unaware.  Holding the door open for someone, offering one’s seat to an elderly passenger, waving ‘thank you’ to another driver who has let one out; actually, just waving someone out!  Thank you letters.  Remember those?  What has happened to us?  We live in a world in which there is no criticism of ego; winner takes all no matter who has been felled in the process.  No!  Stop and help that person who has fallen along the way.  It’s not the winning that’s important but the taking part.  My parents taught me that and I, my children.  As for that little boy who flew into a rage, every sports day, when he didn’t win …  A great success he will undoubtedly be but, personally, I treasure those faded smiley face stickers which say ‘I ran the egg and spoon race …’  Explains it all, really.
‘The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.’  Fred Astaire
God help Fred if he was alive today!
This is Trish, signing off.