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Why people being polite to others is really the height of rock 'n' roll

Published 11/09/2015

Manners matter: music hellraiser Shaun Ryder
Manners matter: music hellraiser Shaun Ryder

I had a strange experience this week. Happy Monday's frontman Shaun Ryder, the great hedonist and hellraiser, gave me a lecture on the importance of manners. In fact, he politely gave me two.

First was when Manchester's famously potty-mouthed ex-heroin addict was telling me he sends his young children to a Catholic school because "they teach them discipline and good manners". And then again when he confessed to a great affection for his teenage self because, even at the working men's clubs he sneaked into to watch Bernard Manning and "a load of strippers" in the afternoons, he never forgot to be polite to people.

The man banned from appearing live on Channel 4 after the sweariest interview that channel ever broadcast was insistent; courtesy is paramount.

I thought of Shaun when I was listening to Michael Palin chatting a few days later. Palin was talking about his reputation as Britain's nicest man, the guy who likes to be liked. "I'm deeply suspicious of people who don't want to be liked," he said, pointing out that only arrogance and misanthropy could lead to such keenness not to be able to communicate.

Being liked shouldn't be your raison d'etre, he pointed out. But "I was always deliberately approachable because I was so curious about people".

Interesting. Part of Michael Palin's warmth upon greeting was, and still is, a clever device to get people to open up to him. It's not, as niceness is often portrayed, a sign of neediness or weakness. It's a way of gaining information, of building a bigger, deeper understanding of the world around you.

As well as being a decent human being who begins a meeting with a stranger assuming that stranger, no matter what class or creed, is worthy of respect.

In some regards, this all sounds pretty obvious. On the other hand, when I think of the glamorous, exciting, left-field rebels who covered my walls when I was at school (Nick Cave, James Dean, Mick and Keith, the Sex Pistols), and set me down the road of lauding different kinds of rebels - George Eliot, Dostoevsky, John Stuart Mill, Tony Benn - niceness and good manners were not traits I considered significant. Or cool.

I probably swallowed the line about anti-Establishment chutzpah being dependent on not giving a damn if everyone despises you. But that's a mistake. Not caring if everyone hates you suggests a low level of respect for other people, whom it must be assumed you feel nothing but contempt for.

It is the opposite of the kind of compassion at the heart of Left-wing politics. It's also contrary to the compulsion to get through to people and make a difference, the instinct which drives the ambitious painter, filmmaker, composer and poet.

This might explain why two of the friendliest people I've ever interviewed have been John Lydon (who claims to put on the best kids' parties in LA and is still heartbroken he never had children) and the famously Dionysian ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash. And why the rudest by far was a Tory politician - Anne Widdecombe.

At a time when the UK is deciding if it should extend the hand of friendship to more than a handful of the world's most desperate refugees, this observation is key.

Good manners precludes shutting the door in someone's face. Niceness is brotherhood, kindness in the face of fear and threat is big, bold, revolutionary.

Not caring what others think of you is lazy, self-aggrandising Katie Hopkins-style egotism. Jesus - such a threat to the state they murdered him - was pretty courteous to strangers, particularly the luckless ones. Only the real pillars of the Establishment don't get it - being nice is the height of rock 'n' roll.

Beeb mustn't send Packham packing

A thousands fan-girl hearts are fluttering at the news that Springwatch pin-up Chris Packham's job could be under threat.

After a column in the BBC Wildlife magazine, in which Packham criticised conservation groups for letting the fear of "upsetting old friends" stop them criticising illegal wildlife killings, Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance accused him of "blatant political propaganda" and called for his sacking. Which seems rather OTT. As well as astonishingly arrogant.

The BBC is yet to back Packham publicly. They should do it now, or risk the accusation of pandering to the Countryside Alliance's "old friends" - the Tory government.

Viz can still make lorra lorra laughs

Private Eye is all well and good, but it was Viz magazine which brilliantly eviscerated lazy tabloid columnists this week.

A piece by 'Tony Parsehole' saw the writer list his punk credentials ("I was the first person to ever see The Clash live") before stating he'd trade them in to hear Cilla sing "just one more time". Or to see Cecil the Lion's "beautiful mane shimmering in the Savannah sun just one more time".

He praised Cilla for never forgetting her roots and Cecil for rising up to be a successful lion.

Even when they're long forgotten, he mused, they will be remembered. "Is that 500 words yet?"

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