There have been, over recent months, several news reports concerning people’s behaviour while using public transport, particularly trains. Much of this has surrounded use of the mobile phone, with a number of passengers objecting to others using them in ‘quiet’ carriages. One rather now notorious news article told of a woman with her feet on the seat opposite her, to the chagrin of another passenger, a man. He then photographed her using his phone and posted it on social media.
Children are now being drawn into the conundrum; former BBC Radio 5 Live presenter Shelagh Fogarty (now at LBC), caused something of a minor twitterstorm by posting comments suggesting that fit and healthy children should never be given a seat in a busy train carriage if they are old enough to stand.
Fogarty remarked, ‘Toddlers having a seat of their own in the tube. Should be a never event during rush hour. Or am I a horrible person? Any fit healthy kid in fact’.
The Tube of course, is the London Underground and like those in every big city elsewhere, gets very crowded when people are going to work in the early part of the morning or home from it at the day’s end.
The first point here is that crowding; does Shelagh Fogarty really expect a child of five or six (or younger), to stand, lassoed by big, heavy, swaying-with-train-motion adults?
It doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.
Her comments were made after she used the tube and found a family with three boys aged around 10 to 13 sitting while the adults stood. Since it was the rush hour, it obviously did not occur to her that two of those adults were the parents and had probably told their three kids to sit for their safety, as an adult is more likely to be able to hold on as the tube rattles its way through the tunnels under London. It isn’t easy (try it sometime and find out for yourself).
Miss Fogarty added, ‘In my mind, chances are several women in your carriage are menstruating, menopausal, or knackered from child rearing. Chivalry is lovely. It is also a human right when it comes to train seats.’
But aren’t children human? Do they not also have the same rights?
I remember rather well being aged five to eight and living in London and indeed standing in crowded tube trains and looking up at the handrail, unable to reach it as I was too short. I subsequently spent my teens living in Cologne, Germany, and at the time, it was indeed an accepted practice for kids to give up a seat for an adult – if that adult was an older person, rather than a more able younger adult, or for that matter an equally fit middle-aged one. Not that such accepted practice stopped some battleaxe from bounding on to a bus or tram and physically yanking a young teenager out of their seat before they could offer it – and yes, I did see it happen, numerous times and no, not to me. But then, I generally followed the local custom anyway.
A number of twitter users agreed with Miss Fogarty, adding their own slightly sarcastic comments although there were some who pointed out that it was safer for children to be seated, with another saying that if they have paid for a ticket, they get a seat.
The added peril – for a man – is to behave like a gentleman and offer his seat to a lady yet then be on the end of a tirade of abuse, being accused of sexism and the like, when the lady turns out to be an ardent feminist who stridently argues that she is as good as any man any time. Perhaps so, and I wouldn’t disagree, being something of a believer in equality myself. But that’s not the point – the point is being polite and having good manners.
And that cuts two ways; yes, if there is somebody who is, or appears to be, in need of a seat, give it up if you are better able to stand - which includes letting younger kids sit since they will be less able to withstand the rigours of rush-hour travel, crammed tightly in between bigger, heavier adults.
Let’s look this another way; my local Aldi is just a few minutes walk away from my home and I use it on an almost daily basis since it is full of cheap food and I’m a perennially poverty-stricken freelance journalist and author. Since it is so close, I rarely need more than two or three items each time and one of the things that set Aldi apart is they have not yet succumbed to the robotic till mania sweeping the rest of the country – there are real people sitting behind them. One still has to queue to pay for one’s goods and almost every time, those in front of me tell me to go before them as they have a trolley load of things to pay for and I don’t.
Yet I am a man, and outwardly quite fit and capable of standing in a queue like everybody else. So why let me jump the queue? Because people are simply being polite.
Politeness extends not only from the young towards the old but from the old towards the young as well.
Shelagh Fogarty did not know the three children on whom she commented, or their parents and to answer the question she posed in her tweet, no I don’t think she is a horrible person. She did however display some lack of thought.
In the meantime, I will do as I have always done and give up my seat if somebody needs it.
More on attitudes in the UK today can be read in my book ‘Comments of a Common Man’ available from Amazon.