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.