There comes a moment when you get pushed beyond the limit, when you can take it no more. It happens to everybody. For me the event took place in the middle of London.
I hailed a taxi. The taxi stopped. I got in, closed the door, and sat down. Another guy, about the same age, height, and weight as me, got into the taxi from the other side. I gave the driver my instructions.
The other guy said, "Clapham."
I said, "I got in first."
He said, "Fuck off." That was his contribution to the argument. He didn't say, "No, I got in first." He wasn't entering any kind of debate.
I said, "But this is my taxi."
Now, I'd been in these situations before. I often used to wait for taxis at the end of my street, a three-way junction, where a subtle form of etiquette operated. A taxi might approach from each of the three directions, although locals knew the exact order of likelihood - most likely from the north, less likely from the west, least likely from the east. The done thing was to wait at different points around the junction, and defer to those who had been waiting longest. It wasn't quite a queue. But people had come to an understanding.
One day, late and flustered, I was standing at the junction, my eyes fixed at a point in the distance, willing a taxi to come my way. I was at the head of the virtual queue. A guy was walking up the road towards me. He walked past me in the direction I was looking. Then a taxi appeared and he hailed it. It stopped; he opened the door.
"Hey!" I said. "That was mine!"
The other guy closed the taxi door, and gave his instructions to the driver. As the car pulled away, he smiled at me. I inwardly cursed him. Bastard! I was late for my appointment.
Purely because of that bastard and his bad manners.
But something else happened that day, too. I changed my behaviour. I stopped waiting on the corner for taxis to come to me. Now, I began to walk up the road to seek them. At first, this seemed like innocent behaviour. But sometimes, I'll admit, I walked past somebody who was already waiting. Mostly I was out of sight by the time I saw a taxi, so the person I was being bad-mannered to never knew anything about it. But one day the taxi appeared at a most inopportune moment - just as I had walked past the guy who was waiting. I hailed it. It stopped. I opened the door.
The guy who had been waiting had a look of horror on his face; he had been robbed. I closed the door. My taxi - his rightful taxi - pulled away from the kerb. I thought to myself: well, at least I didn't smile.
But now I was in a new situation altogether. This time my rival and I were both sitting in the taxi.
Again, I said, "This is my taxi."
Again, he said, "Fuck off."
I appealed to the driver: "Can you tell him I got in first?"
The driver said, "Nothing to do with me, mate. Sort it out between yourselves."
The guy sitting next to me said, "Get out or I'll smash your fucking face in."
At the time, it occurred to me that something bad was happening to the world around me. It was only later that I understood my part in the decline.
One of the problems with bad manners, as you can see, is that they increase exponentially. If I behave badly, you behave worse, and I must behave worse still. If I steal taxis with stealth, someone must steal my taxis with threats; if I am threatened it's a situation I have helped to bring on myself. But there is another problem, one that's less obvious, and that explains why the cycle of bad manners begins in the first place. And this is the problem of good manners. The thing that nobody mentions is that good manners can be a bigger problem than bad manners.
But let's stay with bad manners for a while. Everybody loves bad manners. It's just that they love different types of bad manners. …