Don’t call me dear

The underground can be a crush democracy. Picture: Getty Images

The underground can be a crush democracy. Picture: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images

Lynne Mortimer is rapidly reaching the age when some people feel they have to talk down to her. She pleads for equal treatment.

It is time to stand up ? however long it takes ? and say, in a firm but kindly voice: “Do not patronise me.”

As I age (albeit almost imperceptibly), I notice there is a certain tone that creeps into the voices of people who don’t know me. What it implies is this: “I must speak slowly and clearly because this woman is probably quite old and may be a little hard of hearing and a bit stupid.”

It is not an unfriendly way of speaking... quite the opposite. They like me so much they call me “dear” and, if I make a small joke about my loyalty voucher being out of date, they say: “Aw, bless you.”

I like to see a friendly face but I’m not looking for a metaphorical hand-pat.

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And while I’m on the subject, I must mention the high street store that obviously trains its staff to admire customers’ purchases.

A scarf: “That’s a lovely colour.”

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A coat: “I’ve been thinking about buying one of these.”

A piece of smoked haddock: “Er...”

The thing is, I didn’t notice at first and thought the salespeople were genuinely enthusiastic about my new underwear. But as time goes on and you have a wardrobe of stuff that has been pre-admired in store, you start to pick up on it and eventually, you decide it can’t be a coincidence.

In its way, it is a tad patronising and something else to add to the pile of condescension that threatens to bury us as we get older.

Just remember, you lot out there, that a lot of older people have university degrees. There are teachers, scientists, writers, chief executives, sportsmen and women – and while they may all have grey hair (in its natural state) and wear gilets, they have lifetimes of experience and undiminished intelligence.

I dropped a coin recently, and very nice woman came to my assistance.

“Are you all right, de-ah? Let me get that for you.”

The problem here is, that while I would welcome someone else bending down to recover my 10p, they have already made me bristle.

“That’s all right, thank you,” I reply, maybe a little too briskly (thinks: “I am not your de-ah”) and without a thought for my replacement left knee and arthritic right knee I bopped down and picked it up, rising effortlessly (but in considerable discomfort) with my 10p.

Half of me is triumphant. “I did it, I did it!”; half of me hurts: “Ouch! Ouch!” But it is worth the pain.

I have never liked endearments, even from people who are dear to me (with the possible exception of market traders who call everybody “darling”). If, for example, my husband called me “babe” ? I have frequently heard the term used by the young and in love ? I would assume he was talking about the film... the one with the piglet called Babe.

If you have met me or have occasionally read this column, you will know I am not a “honey” or a “sweetheart”, nor am I much of a “darling”.

I was, however, hoist with my own petard the other day, when having explained my antipathy towards such endearments, I phoned my husband and called him “darling”. Nobody’s perfect.

May I commend the indifference of the London Underground. I struggle on to a packed tube train with a suitcase, handbag, and stand hip-to-hip with a man who starts out as a total stranger but who, after a couple of jolting stops at Bank and St Pauls, might be described as an intimate friend... or maybe your professional Strictly Come Dancing partner. There is a label over the seat nearest the doors, that asks the incumbent to relinquish their berth if someone needs it.

And thereby I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, I am seriously craving that special seat while, on the other, I’m bristling at the thought that the person sitting there might think I need it.

In ye olden days, it wasn’t an issue. Etiquette demanded that men stood up for women; held doors open for them; ushered them ahead through open doorways. It is no way to run gender equality, however, and these days the protocol is, I believe, that whomsoever reaches the door first, holds it open for the next chap, whether they identify as male or female. This would surely be the correct procedure.

But whatever the rights and wrongs of polite behaviour in 2018, I can honestly say that if I am offered the needy seat on the underground, I always accept because it would be churlish to refuse. Londoners are too cool to be patronising. No one says: “Would you like to sit in the old person’s seat, de-ah?” (Subtext: “Because I’m young and fit”.) They tend to simply stand up and nod their head at the seat.

It is possible to treat everyone as if they are fully sentient human beings. No exceptions.

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