Tag Archives: manners

7 August: Happy and thoughtful holidays!

Boudicca
Taken near Cleopatra’s needle by CD.

Good Morning! I’d like to share an old family story that has a bearing on our lives during the second summer of covid-19; we hope you enjoy your holidays, but please let other people enjoy theirs in peace!

We looked around for somewhere to eat our picnic and my young daughters chose the spot between the paws of one of the sphinxes that guard Cleopatra’s needle, an inscribed obelisk associated with the Queen, on the Embankment in central London. Here we were out of the way and could watch the river traffic and the passing tourists.

In the half-hour or so we were there four different families or groups swarmed up beside the girls, posing for photographs; there is another sphinx on the other side of the Needle. Only the last family asked permission, and that was when we were leaving, otherwise there came no apology or acknowledgement of our family at all.

This extreme case of bad manners poses two questions. What, first of all, do we go away for? These people did not appear to be looking at or appreciating the monument at all. I guess they too were near Charing Cross, and had to tick the Needle off their list, and take a photo to prove it. In fact the second, unoccupied sphynx was better lit and unoccupied, so why intrude on us?

Which brings up the second question: do we consider other people when on holiday? The first time I ever felt ashamed to be English overseas was when a couple of middle-aged compatriots smuggled two Yorkshire terriers into a Galway restaurant and fed them titbits on their laps. It was not the last time!

It’s not just inebriated football supporters who get us a bad reputation abroad; it can be you or I, when we don’t take trouble to learn foreign ways, whether tipping, using the buses, or even the plumbing. The ordinary courtesy of consideration and neighbourliness are important, even in London.

Don’t spoil your holiday – or someone else’s – with bad manners!

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15 May: Johnson dining with his enemies.

Boswell had arranged for Johnson to go with him to dine with Mr Dilly the bookseller, but the date had slipped Johnson’s mind. He had been expecting to dine in with Mrs Williams, the blind poet who lived with him and Frank – Francis Barber, his servant, a former slave. Boswell persuaded Mrs Williams to allow Johnson to break his date to dine with her. Boswell had been plotting for Johnson and Wilkes to meet, since they were often at odds in print. ‘How to manage it, was a nice and difficult matter’, but on May 15, 1776, Johnson and Bozzie went to Dilly’s.

As soon as I had announced to him Mrs. Williams’ consent, he roared, ‘Frank, a clean shirt,’ and was very soon drest.

When I had him fairly seated in a hackney-coach with me, I exulted as much as a fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a post-chaise with him to set out for Gretna-Green.

When we entered Mr. Dilly’s drawing room, he found himself in the midst of a company he did not know. I kept myself snug and silent, watching how he would conduct himself. I observed him whispering to Mr. Dilly, ‘Who is that gentleman, Sir?’—’Mr. Arthur Lee.’—

JOHNSON. ‘Too, too, too,’ (under his breath,) which was one of his habitual mutterings[195]. Mr. Arthur Lee could not but be very obnoxious to Johnson, for he was not only a patriot but an American. He was afterwards minister from the United States at the court of Madrid. ‘

And who is the gentleman in lace?’—’Mr. Wilkes, Sir.’ This information confounded him still more; he had some difficulty to restrain himself, and taking up a book, sat down upon a window-seat and read, or at least kept his eye upon it intently for some time, till he composed himself. His feelings, I dare say, were aukward enough. But he no doubt recollected his having rated me for supposing that he could be at all disconcerted by any company, and he, therefore, resolutely set himself to behave quite as an easy man of the world, who could adapt himself at once to the disposition and manners of those whom he might chance to meet.

from “Life of Johnson by James Boswell, via Kindle.

Johnson and Wilkes sat together and were unfailingly attentive to each other and enjoyed an evening of conversation and wit.

The day after tomorrow we find Jesus sitting down to eat with his enemies; no clean shirt, not even clean hands – and that’s where the trouble began.

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