What happened to giving up your seat for people on the train? Health and safety, that's what
By Benedict Nightingale

Recently I stumbled into a Tube train at Westminster on the Jubilee Line, to be greeted by an odd sight. Quite a few adults, some of them obviously elderly, were standing up and clinging to the straps, struts and poles kindly provided by Transport for London, but almost every seat was occupied by a child aged maybe 8, 9 or 10. Even those marked out for old or disabled people were occupied by kids neatly dressed in school uniform.

One of the few adults still seated got up to leave the carriage at Waterloo and one of the few standing children was rushed into her place by a woman who was evidently a teacher. Nearby was a woman of perhaps 70 who looked as if she could do with a rest but clearly wasn't going to get it. She and I gave each other a seen-it-all sort of look. But that changed nothing.

I can't say I could stand no more, because even if I had been 90 and one-legged I would clearly have been left upright by this Lilliputian brigade. But in another sense I couldn't stand it. After all, I was brought up to give my seat to older people. I once made my elder son get up for a foreign woman, who proceeded to put him in a dire state of teenage embarrassment by bowing and saying: “And now I have met ze English gentleman.” I know my grandson does what was once thought the polite, decent thing.

But not this lot. So I asked the teacher why. She looked flustered and hurried away to fetch a male colleague who, like her, was standing. Well, why? “It's Health and Safety,” he explained. But suppose the carriage had been packed when the children got on? Wouldn't they have had to stand? “Yes,” he agreed. “So isn't it illogical to insist on them sitting now?” “Health and Safety isn't very logical,” he said.

Now, I'm prepared to believe anything of an outfit that fusses about the mortal perils of conkers and waterwings. It wouldn't surprise me if the Health and Safety Executive ordered the mass extraction of the nation's teeth, so as to stop us biting our tongues. But what's the message being given to our children? Think of yourselves first. Use any excuse to ensure your own comfort. Don't bother with consideration for others. I looked at those quiet, nice tots and thought that they were being encouraged to become the sort of boors who push their way through crowded trains and on to seats, elbowing invalids out of the way.

Well, I should have said that to that schoolteacher. And he should have given his children a practical lesson in civics by forcing them to their feet. But neither of us did. I got off at London Bridge and he and his charges went on to see Tutankhamun.

Would they, I wondered, have stood if some wizened old Pharaoh had clattered their way, like the mummy in the Conan Doyle story? No, Health and Safety would have forbidden it.

Source: TimesOnline, Feb. 27, 08

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