Thursday, January 10, 2008

Teaching Good Manners

Richard Cairns is an interesting headmaster. He has introduced an year long course for the 14 years olds at Brighton College, teaching 'Good manners and etiquette. Pupils are learning how to lay a table, the appropriate time to remove jackets and how to hold cutlery properly (such as always 'drawing' the soup spoon away from the body). The course also covers learning how to tackle a bow-tie (which is still beyond me as it happens), how to boil an egg and how to erect a tent. And best of all, the course teaches young people to be generally helpful to pensioners, and give up their seats to more vulnerable people. I do like the sound of Mr Cairns.

The reason this story caught my eye is that I've just read about a similar exercise in promoting civilised behaviour, by a man known only as Daniel from Beccles who wrote 'The Book of the Civilised Man' in the time of the Magna Carta - referred to at length in my first holiday read. The book gives advice on how to behave in Church, as a page to a nobleman, on the street, at the table, and in a brothel. It also includes instruction on when, where and how to urinate, defecate, spit, belch and fart politely. I know it was the 13th century, but I'm interested in the concept of how its possible to perform some of these activities in a polite way - apart from abstinence that is. The advice in the book also covers how to eat, drink, how often to take a bath, have sex and take exercise. Also advised is keeping pigs and cats outside of the living space referred to as the 'Hall' - allowing only 'gentleman's animals' to enter, which include 'dogs, hawks and horses'. The 'Hall' was a public place, where it was considered bad manners to 'scratch yourself or look for fleas in your breeches', comb your hair, clean your nails, take off your shoes, or urinate in the 'Hall'. The latter practice was regarded as particularly bad manners - unless you were the 'head of the household'. As always, I am not making anything up. I hope that Mr Cairns has given due credit in the college's prospectus to Daniel of Beccles.


Dr. Christopher Wood said...

On the subjects of farts, Victorian Gentlemen, so I was told in darkest deepest winter during a microbiology class, would discuss issues of the day in close proximity to a fireplace and use said fireplace to dispose of farts quietly and with no smell venturing against the air flow vectoring into the fireplace (warmed air rises up the chimney, so get a healthy draft of fresh air heading for the fireplace) - hence Victorians’ love for fireplaces. Anyway, one keen farter set fire to his coat tails - Victorian urban legend? Perhaps, post-wind of Cameron’s speech on invalidity benefit cheats, Glyn can give some pointers?

Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats said...

How much more useful that would have been to me in grammar school days, rather than the weekly afternoon's religious instruction from our sanctimonious headmaster.

Frank Little

Glyn Davies said...

Christopher - you are full of 'interesting inforation'.

Dr. Christopher Wood said...

Glyn: you might want to suggest to the Welsh Conservatives that they ask me to be their Special Scientific and Intellectual Property (IP) Advisor. I am after all, a professional lawyer with excellent interdisciplinary science skills and I work in the IP field where I have garnered fantastically valuable (to Wales) specialist knowledge of international intellectual property law and I have a PhD in a hard science awarded by the same university that Lord Kelvin hails from, where James Watt improved on the steam engine which led to the Industrial Revolution (the unit of power Watt, e.g., 60 W light bulb was so named in Watt’s honour), where Joseph Black (the Chemistry Department is named after him) developed the theory of latent heat of vaporization (Black was appointed head of the Chemistry Department where I was a demonstrator and completed a research PhD in Chemistry), let’s not forget Frederick Soddy who also hails from the same Chemistry Department, Soddy developed the theory of isotopes (elements with same atomic number but exhibiting different atomic mass). On one of the stair cases in the Chemistry Department there is a plaque noting Soddy’s achievements, and for a while there was a special exhibition cabinet where Black’s papers were displayed - every-time I walked past that cabinet I read another line of Black’s paper on evaporation/vaporization. His theory on latent heat was the precursor for the new scientific/engineering discipline of thermodynamics. Black’s writing style caught me off guard, almost Chaucer like.