Incoming semi-rant. I apologise in advance.
I went into Durham yesterday. That in itself is nothing new; I go into Durham all the time. Hell, I live here. What made yesterday so notable was this.
I always tend to use to the Park and Ride bus rather than enter the death match that is searching for premium parking space in the city centre. Durham has a number of car parks, one of which is always chocka-block due to being the easiest to find, one of which closes at some ridiculously early time and another which has the most inconveniently situated posts and pillars you’ve ever seen in your life. Seriously, the designers of that car park should be taken out in public and be made to watch endless re-runs of Susan Boyle’s ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ audition. It’s no less than they deserve. So enter the Park and Ride facilities. Three big car parks, strategically situated at the arterial routes into Durham. £1.70 to sit back and let someone else worry about running Bloody Students[tm] over.
What made me smile was a young lad, perhaps the same age as Not So Small Anymore Son, who said ‘thank you’ as he got off the bus. Now, NSSAS always says thank you, because that’s how I brought him up. The reason I brought him up to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ was a reflection on how I was brought up. But it was really, really nice to hear another kid saying it. And it got me thinking about parenting and how far NSSAS has come since came into this world two months early almost thirteen years ago to the day.
‘Always remember to say “please” and “thank you”,’ my mother told me. ‘It costs nothing and it means everything.’ Of course, when she gave me this critical bit of life advice, I was just a child. I had no idea just how true those words were. My mum worked in the local corner shop for much of my early memory and later moved to the glitzy glamour of the newsagents when it arrived in the village. Prior to that, there was a corner shop, a butchers, a baker’s (not a candlestick maker’s, although there was a place that made saddles if I remember correctly). As such, she dealt with the public on a daily basis. She was astoundingly polite. When obnoxious school kids came into the shop after getting off the school bus, she would actively refuse to sell them anything unless they were polite. It worked, too.
At her funeral, the local vicar started his eulogy with ‘Most people knew her as the lady in the shop.’ My mum. The legend. She brought me up with a plethora of good manners and I’ll always be thankful for that. I’ll always be surprised at the reaction good manners seem to get from people, but thankful nonetheless. An example of this was yesterday in Marks & Spencer; I was at the till with a basket full of things I didn’t really need, but really, really wanted (damn you, M&S Food Hall). An elderly lady with a pint of milk and a sandwich got in line behind me and I insisted she go first as she only had a little bit. I kid you not; this lady’s eyes filled with tears and she smiled warmly. ‘What a charming young lady you are,’ she said. ‘Thank you very much.’ Random acts of kindness go a long way, you know.
There was a lady in one of the aforementioned car parks just before Christmas. She was struggling with a child in a pushchair, a toddler who was obviously tired and cranky, armfuls of wrapping paper and a pay machine that wouldn’t eat her £5 note to pay her £1.60 parking fee. ‘Can you change my £5?’ It was a desperate voice; a woman who was on the verge of crying. I checked my purse. No, I couldn’t change her £5. So I did the only decent thing. I paid her parking for her with the £1.60 I did have. She tried to make me take her £5, but I wouldn’t. I told her it was a Christmas gift and smiled. ‘I hope something wonderful happens to you today,’ she said as I picked up the bag she’d dropped. What she didn’t realise was that it already had. I’d brought a little moment of niceness into her life. That works for me.
Yeah, I know, I’m old-fashioned. I hold doors open for people. I pass the time of day with people at the till. I thank them for their help (when they deserve it) and as a consequence, NSSAS is exactly the same. I still remember him being three years old and holding a door open for someone. ‘After you,’ he said in his baby voice. Adorable? Yes. Was I proud? Yes. Is this normal behaviour for a soon-to-be thirteen year old? Apparently not as much as you would like to think. People still register surprise when NSSAS thanks them for things. He’s a rare pleasure to take out for a meal. He carefully selects his choice from the menu and orders it himself. He asks questions about things he doesn’t understand, and he always always starts his order with ‘Please may I have…’ As a consequence, on more than one occasion I’ve been stopped on the way out of the restaurant and complimented on having such a nice child. I love that. But I’m also saddened that it seems to be such a rarity. On one of the occasions this happened, there was another kid in the same restaurant, probably a bit older than NSSAS was at the time. He spent the whole meal playing with his hand-held console. His mother ordered his food and cut it up for him. He never spoke a word throughout the entire evening.
But it’s so easy. If you say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ yourself, of course your child is going to act the same way. Dearly Beloved works in retail and regularly returns home in varying states of apoplexy and assorted degrees of purple rage. One of his biggest bug bears is the Oblivious Parent; the ones who clearly don’t think that moral standards apply to them. I don’t know whether it’s a product of some poor education, something else or whether they just don’t care, but the story from yesterday was that a woman came into the shop with DB took to be a little of of about 5 years old. They picked out three games on the three for £whatever deal. One was Spyro, one was something else cutesy… and the other was Grand Theft Auto, or one of its derivatives.
‘Is this for him?’ DB asked.
‘Oh, yes,’ she said. ‘He likes that sort of thing. The driving, the shooting.’
DB then proceeded to pull no punches and told her about graphic sex scenes, blah blah blah blah blah. Or at least, that’s evidently what this woman heard, because she bought it anyway. As DB said, he could have refused the sale, but then the customer would have started complaining. It’s happened before.
Whilst in Curry’s yesterday, I got chatting to the sales assistant, a lovely lady by the name of Lillian. (See what I mean? I go in somewhere to enquire about a particular product and I come out with their life story). She was telling me about this family with two young children and how the parents refused to keep control of them. The little darlings were running up and down the aisle, opening and slamming oven doors… that sort of thing. Then they came over to the TV area where she was working and carried on being little tearaways. One of them shoved the other one into a display and the whole thing came crashing down… on the sales assistant. The thing that got me was that apparently the parents didn’t even chastise the kids. Not a tiny bit. Not even half-heartedly. Neither did they think to ask if the sales assistant was alright. And that, tragically, seems to be the norm rather than the exception.
It does make me worry that NSSAS is growing up in a generation of pig-ignorant fuckwads. The anonymity of the Internet gives people a shield from behind which they can inject various brands of vitriol into the ether and our kids are sucking this up. They’re growing up thinking it’s OK to be opinionated and yes… yes, it really is. But be opinionated with an open mind. Be prepared to admit there are other viewpoints. Thank someone for a good discussion. Don’t resort to mud slinging and name calling. You know what? Treat people with respect. Try checking out the Golden Rule.
Most of the people I know are decent folks. They say please/thank you and so do their children. It’s horrible that people with good manners seem to be a dying breed. Because passing that onto your kids? Well, it’s really not that difficult.