THIS week’s viral news story, gleefully bouncing around cyberspace like a pinball of self-righteousness, concerns an heroic train driver who told a woman to shut up.
The driver was at the controls of a packed commuter service when he used the public address system to make the following announcement: “This is a special message to the lady travelling in first class in the middle of the train. Please refrain from shouting as you are annoying other passengers.”
Suitably embarrassed, the woman then abruptly ended her phone conversation, much to the “delight” of her fellow passengers. And the delirious joy of the online community.
“Brilliant! Wish I had been there!” was the typical response filling comment boxes in the many versions of the story.
Even the National Campaign for Courtesy got involved, claiming it was a “marvellous” announcement, as the nation basked in this small victory for etiquette.
Well, that is one way of looking at it.
The other way is this: we are now so comfortable with our Big Brother-like existence that we are not only comfortable with a fellow citizen obeying an order barked at her through a loudspeaker, but we actively celebrate it.
Hey, here is a crazy idea for us all (including me): the next time a fellow train passenger is bellowing into their mobile phone, why don’t we politely ask them to keep it down?
Go on, Britain....let’s try it! I bet we won’t get stabbed, no matter what the Daily Mail says. What will almost certainly happen is that the phone bellower will apologise and say they did not realise how loud they were chuntering, or perhaps offer some mitigating circumstances (“sorry, but my mum is a bit deaf”). Then we can smile and say something nice and conciliatory like “Thank you”.
In a small number of cases, the bellower will give us a filthy look or a gobful of abuse. In which case, we can smile sweetly and return to our seat, safe in the knowledge that we gave it a try and the rest of the carriage loves us.
Surely either one of these scenarios is many times preferable to quietly snitching to a train guard, then waiting for the culprit to be humiliated via the public address system?
Of course, I know my crazy pipe dream of strangers talking nicely to each other will never take root. That is not how we do things any more.
As in so many other areas of life – litter louts, unruly children, pub drunks - we have negated responsibility for ensuring civilised behaviour from others, outsourcing it instead to the nearest bloke in a hi-viz tabard.
Well, we could not possibly intervene ourselves. We are far too busy footling about online, bemoaning how the country has gone to the dogs. Which, of course, is all someone else’s fault.