When we were children my mother was extremely keen that we gave up our seats to the elderly on trains and buses; any show of reluctance, the slightest dragging of feet risked the threat of bedtime half an hour earlier than usual.
I have reached that age when I am now the recipient of offers of a seat, too often from depressingly pretty young women. They mean well but I try to avoid their kindness by hiding in the corners of the tube carriage my cap pulled well down over my eyes. There are, I know, worse things to remind of one of one’s age, a young woman recently offered to carry a distinguished journalist colleague of mine’s suitcase. It wasn’t even a big suitcase.
It can be difficult to refuse. Recently, in an underground carriage full of hard faced bankers and accountants on their way home from the City a woman in a full burka got up for me. Here indeed was a dilemma for the editor of the Salisbury Review. A virtual neon sign ‘Moral Lesson’ in Islamic Green began flashing above my head as I reluctantly took her seat. I felt like an experimental subject taking part in a bizarre exercise in tolerance. Refuse and you are a racist, accept and you might be mistaken for a Guardian reader.
There is one exception to the general benevolence of strangers – children. These days it is common to board a train and see several seats taken by five to ten year olds, many wearing the sullen stare of entitlement that comes from not being brought up by hand. They never get up, indeed in some cases adults get up for them. I watched a very old man get on the train the other night and shuffle almost the entire length of the carriage – followed by the stares of these little Macburger fed monsters – before an adult passenger got off leaving him a vacant seat.
I think this is what educationalists like the drivelling Head of Ofsted I heard on the radio the other day would call ‘special needs’. “We need more than you do, and we will need even more in the future”. I was reminded of the film ‘Soylent Green‘ where in a future world of over population and crop failure the elderly were euthanised and turned into biscuits….