“Perhaps a gentleman is a rarer man than some of us think for. Which of us can point out many such in his circle; men whose aims are generous, whose truth is not only constant in its kind, but elevated in its degree; whose want of meanness makes them simple, who can look the world honestly in the face with an equal manly sympathy for the great and the small.” – Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
Even when William Makepeace Thackeray first published Vanity Fair in 1847, the gentleman was an elusive being. Now, 163 years on, it would appear that very little has changed in London despite attempts to demonstrate otherwise with the airing of television shows such as Made in Chelsea which, ironically, ends up showing that the rich and affluent can in fact be among the most ungentlemanly characters in London society. I’ve seen piranhas with better table manners than the cast of that show. They create drama where there is none, their manners are largely non existent, and their behaviour leaves much to be desired. In complete contrast, then, with what is traditionally expected of individuals who frequent the most upmarket establishments in the city.
One of the places that I find this ignorance to etiquette to be most noticeable is the London Underground, where commuters from all walks of life are forced to interact with each other on a daily basis in the most extreme travel conditions possible. During rush hour, it is not uncommon to find yourself standing in a packed tube carriage with your face in the armpit of a sweaty businessman, your hand on the crotch of the person stood next to you, and your backside dangerously close to the face of the person sat behind you. The carriage is so packed full of people that if you move to avoid the unfortunate position you’ve found yourself in, you’ll find your face in another armpit, and your hand on another backside or crotch except this time, there’s the risk of castration for the poor bugger you were initially ‘cosied up to’. So, when faced with these conditions people appear to lose their minds and all social graces go out of the window. The following situations are a handful of those I have found myself in or witnessed when making such journeys.
The Battle for the Priority Seat
As is common with trains and buses all round the country, the tubes are equipped with clearly marked priority seats which are like gold dust to rush hour commuters. Situated on the end of a row next to a plastic ‘wall’, you only have to sit next to one other passenger and have a means by which to rest your head after a busy day in the office. The number of people that can fall on you are limited and, when you reach your stop, you don’t have to battle through a huge sea of people to exit the train.
Barman moquette priority seating, Central Line 1992 Stock (23 Jan 2014) by Daniel Wright
However, the lucky individuals who have been waiting for one of these seats to become available, and battled their way like Vikings through the mob of people who have also noticed that it is vacant and are rushing to plant their arses on it, all of a sudden seem to lose their ability to see when someone who is entitled to rob the seat off them boards the train. I have witnessed heavily pregnant women stand directly in front of a priority seat, while the well dressed young businessman occupying it in a tailored Savile Row suit stares at the floor and refuses to acknowledge that she even exists. I have seen elderly men and women close to passing out due to the extreme heat, whilst struggling with their weakened muscles to hold onto whatever they can find for their dear life. Occasionally, this is another passenger. Nobody offers them their seat, and they are too polite to ask. They suffer in silence, while the twenty something young man sits and plays Angry Birds or Candy Crush on the latest piece of technology they have acquired.
The priority seat blockers are not alone in their crime, however, as the men around them also fail to get up and offer their seats to these fragile individuals. It’s as if there’s an unwritten code which states that no man will acknowledge the infirm or the pregnant when in a seated position on the tube. Usually, I am only able to endure five minutes of this madness before I get up and offer my seat if I’m lucky enough to have had one. It’s either that, or slapping the nearest male around the chops, dragging him out of his seat and then giving him a lecture about priorities before instructing him to sort his life out.
Occupying Multiple Seats
This is something that really irritates me, as I’m a firm believer in the motto “seats are for bums, not bags”. There’s also a huge area when you board the tube which is dedicated to overspill of passengers and storage of larger items so that individuals who wish to sit are not forced to stand while a chest of drawers humongous cardboard box denies them access to one or more seats.
Courtesy of Annie Mole
However, there are those who are worse that the individual who uses a seat to store their shopping and those who like to rest their furniture against them; they are The Resters. These are the individuals who stretch their legs out in front of multiple sears, fall asleep on your shoulders and drool all over your t-shirt, and use the seat opposite them as a leg rest because they’re incapable of sitting properly.
A couple of months ago after a particularly stressful day at work, I found myself getting onto a relatively busy tube to find that the only four seats available in the carriage were being occupied by a young man who was lying across them, his shoes on the floor next to him while he watched a film on his phone. I asked him if I could sit on the seat at the end, and he replied with “sorry, I’m injured and I’m in a lot of pain,” then returned to staring at the screen on his phone. I didn’t ask again, and stood for the next couple of stops. After ten minutes the young man tore his face away from the screen and, noticing we had arrived at his stop, jumped upright and sprinted off the tube carrying his shoes just in time to make it out of the door. Clearly, he hadn’t been as injured as he’d made out and just couldn’t be bothered to move. Meanwhile, I’d been forced to stand with three bags full of heavy books, my handbag and a violin.
Blockers of the Exits
Although this name is far from glamorous, I cannot think of any other which can be used to describe these individuals which doesn’t involve the use of very bad language. In fact when I just asked the boyfriend for his help to describe them, he merely turned to me and said “bastards.” Very helpful.
There have been innumerate occasions where I have found myself unable to exit the train at my desired stop because Exit Blockers have not moved to allow me to disembark the tube. This hasn’t been for want of trying either. I’ve politely tried to excuse my way past people, hoping that manners will be enough to cause the obstruction to part like the Red Sea and allow me to cross. If that fails, I attempt to use a bit of force and push my way through any weak links in the chain. Unfortunately in rush hour, however, trying to push your way through the crowd is like attempting to knock down a wall with a feather. By this point, the doors are close to closing, and the only option you have left is to launch yourself at the doors with as much force as possible in the hope that you are able to propel yourself through the ignorant people who are refusing to let you out. Nine times out of ten, I find myself still failing to break through, most likely because I’m far too terrified to have the contents of my bag spill out all over the floor.
Personal irritations aside, these people are unbelievable for so many other reasons. They refuse to let travelers board, most likely due to a sense of panic which overcomes them that they may have to share their personal space for a mere thirty minutes of their day. I’ve also witnessed families become separated because the child has been small enough to squeeze through people’s legs and get off, but the mother has been unable to break through and watched, panic stricken, as the doors close and her child is left on the platform as the vehicle starts to move. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people allow this to happen or why they would be so selfish
So, having examined three separate scenarios and type of individual who travel the tube on a daily it is undoubtedly clear to me that chivalry is dead and that gentlemen do not exist. If they did, I would be able to exit the tube without issue, the disabled and pregnant would not be left standing when they clearly need access to a seat, and seats would be reserved for bums and not bags. However, things haven’t changed over the past 163 years, so I don’t think they’ll be changing any time soon.