HOLMSEY: Mind your manners

How rude are your children and grandchildren? If you buy presents, do you always get a thank you? Do they pay the extortionate ferry fare and visit occasionally?

My grown-up kids lead busy lives, but thankfully they usually keep in touch. Occasionally my messages go unanswered, or until they feel like it, and sometimes they don’t feel like it! How many seconds out of your hectic schedule does it take to reply to a text?

The young are usually glued to their phones, so if you don’t get prompt responses, it’s likely they regard your communication as a nuisance.

Whenever you eat out, you’ll see whole families glued to their phones or iPads; very little chat takes place, sometimes even when the food arrives. Like everyone else, I use my phone too much, and I’m definitely on Facebook more often than I’d like to be. I try not to ask my kids too many long-winded questions by text but, as you get older, one begins to feel a little neglected when your messages are ignored.

I pity parents of 10– or 11-year-olds because, whatever those without children think, restricting kids’ mobile phone use is virtually impossible. People with children often say there’s no escaping school WhatsApp groups. In pre-mobile days, if you were having a hard time at school, it was all over by 3.30pm. Now, anyone can be ‘got at’ 24/7, and even homework comes via email on their phone. Lots of teens I meet struggle to say hello or glance in my direction, evidently more interested in their iPhone than boring old humans.

To be fair, it’s not just children who lack manners. This week someone told me about a defendant who refused to co-operate in adult court. When asked to plead, they cursed everyone from the dock using foul language. Stupidly, I assumed this would be contempt, and that the person would be taken down to the cells to cool off. Not a bit of it. For practical reasons, that isn’t really possible any more – practically, the best they can do is eject them from the building. What kind of message does that send? This idiot is regularly in the dock and clearly knows the system, a system which is evidently broken.

Having picked on everyone under 30, I should report that I get nuisance texts from older people, as early as 6am or way past midnight. I try to excuse these elderly senders because they nap all day – which presumably makes them unaware of the actual time! I used to phone an 80-year-old on a weekly basis; they always answered my cheery question “What have you been up to?” with the same answer – “Nothing”. Eventually I realised they really meant it. If pressed, they would triumphantly recall, “We went food shopping on Monday,” or would relate a recent episode of ‘Pointless’ – in forensic detail.

I once paid an in-person afternoon visit to an older relative who was staying with her sister. To the question “What have you two been up to then?” the old ladies described that morning’s breakfast. It went something like, “Well, we got up at 7, or was it 8? And I said ‘Would you like Shredded Wheat or cornflakes?’” After some careful thought, her sister replied, “We had cornflakes yesterday, so we should have Shredded Wheat today,” and on they went, for twenty boring minutes. If you don’t get out much, presumably what you’ve eaten, the telly and your neglectful family are the only things you have to talk about – apart from your bowel movements, which also seems to become relatable when you hit old age.

Most elderly people have mobiles these days, so I suppose bad manners can afflict people in every age group, including mine!