Monday, 10 January 2011

The venting of Henry's Spleen: The case for space

Every so often I am accused of being stubborn, curmudgeonly and inflexible and I fear that this article will prompt a number of my more free spirited readers to take up arms and challenge this piece. As with anything I write, I hope this will not be the case, but I welcome any debate on the back of this piece. I feel that many a commuter, whether it be by train or by bus will sympathise with the case that I am about to put forward, or rather the complaint I am about to raise against the large number of fellow travellers on public transport.

Over the last twenty years, perhaps even longer, as technology has advanced, the celebrity culture has grown and social networking has thrown open the doors of the private lives of all and sundry (and being a member of twitter, facebook and blogspot I am well aware of my hippocracy!) it seems that we as a nation have sacrificed the great luxury of reserve and personal space. Now, please let me clarify that this is not the reserve which a number of brits regard as a license to be both rude and stand offish to tourists but the consideration of other people’s public privacy.

Again, I feel I must clarify that statement as I know a number of readers might mistake this for a pop at celebrity culture, which this is certainly not. I am not having a go at the tabloid press nor am I criticizing celebrities who feel that their personal lives have been invaded. This piece is about the lost value of personal space. To make this distinction I will use a simple example of something that happened to me the other day:

I was waiting outside a tube station for a friend before going to the cinema when I was approached by a man who was obviously a tourist in need of some direction. Seeing that I was stationary he approached in order to see whether I could make him any the wiser as to the location of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Being an obliging sort of fellow I was only too happy to let him know the location as I knew exactly the right way for him to go. He then made the crucial error of standing right up to me and talking in a very close manner, head on. This made me incredibly uneasy and although he wasn’t threatening I could have done without a stranger’s nose almost touching the top of my lapel. I muttered some directions quickly and hurried him along before I could let out a sigh of relief. What’s so bad is that this fellow would have been totally unaware of how uncomfortable his speaking manner made me and I am sure many other people.

I am sure that many of you have watched Seinfeld and remember a brilliant episode where Judge Reinhold guest stars as Elaine’s boyfriend, the whole joke being that where he talks to anyone he gets right up in their face and as a consequence is nicknamed ‘The Close Talker’. I find this a deeply unattractive and unnerving invasion of personal space especially if it is a stranger who is doing it! However, I would be a petty man if this was the only case that I had of the lack of respect that a number of people have for other space.

Looking back towards public transport, when I was commuting into work during the rush hour I used to become very frustrated with both the volume at which people would play their music with no consideration for fellow passengers and also how many passengers would start reading your book/magazine/paper over your shoulder to compensate for their lack of preparation and forethought before embarking on their journey. There are few things more irritating (except perhaps prolonged periods of my company) than turning round on a packed train to see three sets of eyes squinting carefully to find out just how Sherlock Holmes solved the case of ‘The Blue Carbuncle’! Being a District Line traveller, over zealous Chelsea fans can also be intensely annoying however, I feel that is another gripe for another time!

Finally I want to draw the reader’s attention to an inexcusable crime which short people like myself are continual victims. There is literally no excuse for taller people to pick up smaller people whether it is with the best of intentions. I remember going to a party once where someone picked me up and paraded me round the dance floor, it was both intimidating and highly invasive as if to suggest that I was merely a rag-doll that could be carried around for the amusement of the assembled guests. Some may think I exaggerate but until it has happened to you it can never be understood how embarrassing it is (and I have done plenty more embarrassing things without such a deep sense of humiliation!).

So there you have it, I think that I have more than adequately summed up the problem and it leaves me to plead with society in general to have a little more consideration for the half metre circle of space which surrounds a person so that when in a situation where you are able to give someone some public privacy you ensure that you do! 

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