Manners maketh man – and women

By Keith Newbery

Friday, February 21, 2014


THOSE of a certain age will remember John Rickman, who used to be the face of horse racing on ITV.

He was a dapper little chap with a clipped moustache and a gentle smile who, as the camera swung in his direction, used to lift his trilby in an instinctive greeting.

This was good manners on an industrial scale. The man was being polite to an entire nation.

You could hear the titter of approval from sitting rooms up and down the land as ladies of mature years sipped their lapsang souchong and nibbled daintily on a gypsy cream.

It was a genuine salutation from a true gentleman and a good few furlongs removed from the affectations adopted by the egregious John McCririck before Channel 4 saw sense and booted him out to graze forever on the far side of the paddock.

It was also a greeting from another era and I’m sure Rickman would be mortified to witness what passes for the basic courtesies of inter-personal communication these days.

Even the traditional exchange of 'Hello, how are you?’, 'I’m fine, how are you?’ has acquired a certain vacuity, because in most cases those on each side of the exchange couldn’t really care less about the welfare of the other.

But even this is preferable to 'Hello, how are you?’, 'Good’.

Good? What do they mean, good? Good at what? Did they, perhaps, mean well?’

But even this is positively Shakespearean compared to 'All right?’, 'Yeah, cool,’ the slovenly use of which has insinuated itself into every crevice of contemporary conversation.

Kids these days use the word 'cool’ as if they invented it, so I’m almost loath to tell them Cool for Cats was one of the first television programmes aimed at a teenage audience almost 60 years ago.

It was presented by Kent Walton, who went on to prostitute what little talent he had by welcoming 'grapple fans’ to the absurdities of televised professional wrestling on Saturday afternoons and in doing so became so uncool as to be positively humid.

Perhaps some other dusty old terms from the Fifties are poised to make a comeback.

How long before our streets once more ring to the greeting 'Hey, daddy-o!’ as a beatnik passes by? Will such an exotic creature still be regarded as 'groovy’ or 'hip’?

Most of these terms have their roots across the Atlantic, of course, and the drift of grammatical drivel from that general direction continues unabated.

The latest occurs when someone requests a drink by asking: 'Can I get a lager, please?’

My reply, should I be unfortunate enough to be stationed the other side of the bar, would be: 'No. I’ll get the drink. You just tell me what you want’ — which is why the licensing trade has never been regarded as my natural calling.

While on the subject of customer service (or the lack of it) I paid my annual visit to THAT shop in Regent Street, Shanklin, recently, just to remind myself how amusing it is to be at the mercy of the rudest woman in the retail industry.

Regular shoppers in the town will know exactly who I mean and the emporium is always worth a visit just to see if she has managed to acquire even a smattering

of manners with the passing of time.

But she has actually got worse. Her normal approach when you arrive at the counter is to ignore your existence for about ten seconds before eventually looking up and raising both eyebrows in a gesture of mute inquiry. Words are not regarded as even an optional extra.

But this time she only bothered to raise one eyebrow — so goodness knows what I’ve done to upset her.

Grammar rage and a sign of the times

WE are tormented by them in everything from newspapers to greengrocers’ windows, from pub menus to cheap magazines — but the classic grammatical error has now managed to find itself in lights.

Well, sort of. I’m referring to that flashing sign which faced all motorists recently as they headed down Newport High Street towards Coppin’s Bridge roundabout.

It stated: "Drive carefully, your family are waiting for you." You could see it as many as three consecutive times while trapped in one queue, which is why there are now teeth-marks on my steering wheel.

Is there no-one at the council or Island Roads with a basic grasp of the mother tongue?

Apparently not, so let me provide a crash course (if you’ll pardon the unfortunate pun).

The sign should have read either "your family (singular) IS waiting for you", or "your families (plural) ARE waiting for you".

It could be worse. We’re probably only a couple of failed GCSEs away from "your familie’s is waiting for you".

Spare a moment’s pity, if you will, for people like my old mate, Shed Sprack, who is a top driving instructor and came to regard this electronic aberration as an occupational hazard.

He said: "It annoyed me every time I saw it, which was fairly frequently. But having learner-drivers in the car meant I couldn’t actually swear out loud."

The wretched sign is now gone, I’m pleased to say, kidnapped overnight, one hopes, by the Island’s grammar vigilantes.

l Editor’s footnote: No, it’s gone on holiday to Yarmouth.

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