Speed cameras I can take or leave: I am not convinced they aren’t just another gadget for collecting revenue from motorists. Powerful modern cars and seat belts which give motorists a sense of total control and invulnerability are probably greater contributors to reckless road speeding.
But the outgoing head of Cambridgeshire police, Julie Spence, hit a significantly moral note in her defence of policing the roads. She called speeding “middle-class antisocial behaviour” and linked it with the kind of rowdy youths and casual vandalism known as anti-social conduct. Indeed, she said it was worse than the usual yobbo culture because speeding can, and does, kill. “Driving without care or consideration for other road users is probably among the worst kind of antisocial behaviour in its truest sense,” she said.
And the source, Mrs Spence said, was the “have-it-all” society with its attitudes of “easy credit, drink as much as you can, have it when you want, buy this, buy that and buy the other”. The lady has a point, surely. Many decades ago, when the first credit card was introduced in Britain – it was Barclaycard – the late Bernard Levin excoriated the slogan which marketed this innovation: “Taking the waiting out of wanting.” Removing the “waiting” from “wanting”, Bernard wrote, was the destruction of the principle of deferred gratification. And that erodes both manners and morals.
(Mind you, the credit card also demonstrates – in the long term – that you reap as you sow, and as sure as heck those impulsive decisions taking the waiting out of wanting will catch up with you, and with interest!) But it’s true that motorists’ behaviour – as Julie Spence says – does reflect many contemporary values. It is my observation, too, that motorists, especially in bigger cars, often fail to use their indicator light: this can be dangerous for pedestrians, literally not knowing which way the vehicle will turn.
When I called out to a driver of a 4x4: “Use your indicator light!” he answered with a rude gesture and beeped his horn in loud reprimand.
That is another interesting sign of our times which Julie Spence might add to the charge sheet: a great reluctance, indeed an outright hostility, to taking correction. This is less the “greed” culture, I’d say, and more the “rights and entitlement” culture.
Everyday behaviour tells us a lot, to be sure, about the way we live now.
When somebody dies, Catholics have been in the habit of sending touching little memorial cards in memory of the dead. As with many religious practices, this has a practical element as well acting as a spiritual reminder: these acknowledge letters of condolence (or a Mass said for the dead).
In Catholic cultures, such as Ireland, secularists have now developed a secular version of the memorial card – a photographic tribute to the life of the person departed, with some text added. Although lacking the uplifting note of spirituality in religious memorial cards, they are better than nothing and do serve a purpose: to acknowledge letters of condolence.
I have sometimes written a letter of condolence and received no reply or acknowledgement whatsoever. I am not sure if this is because the bereaved person is too upset to respond, or too busy, or doesn’t know what to say, or can’t be bothered or wants to forget their grief, or, troublingly, whether I have offended or annoyed the person by writing, or perhaps saying the wrong thing. (“I’ll never forget the time your late mother and myself went off on a wild weekend biking in California – what larks we had!”) This is where the memorial card is so tactful: it implicitly recognises the writer’s good intentions in sending a letter, provides a memento, and doesn’t have to involve the bereaved person trawling through pained feelings repeatedly – just pop it in an envelope and the letterwriter feels acknowledged, and a kind of closure.
The Victorian cult of the dead is well gone, but perhaps there is a lack of new etiquette to replace it.
Iam all in favour of the Holy See enforcing “modest” rules of dress for visitors to the Vatican, as announced. Some folk just need to be told what is acceptable and what isn’t. That is why formal invitations specify the “dress code” to an event.
But let Rome be sure that they are even-handed, as between male and female, in spelling out the said dress code. Men in beachwear walking around cities look no more dignified or modest than females in skimpy attire. Daniel Craig emerging from the sea in a James Bond clip may appear like a contemporary version of Botticelli’s Venus rising from the waves, but the seashore and civil – let alone religious – surroundings are two quite different contexts.