License article

You were right, mum, about so much

Dear mum,

I know you're no longer here and, as I'm an atheist, it's hypocritical of me to believe you're reading this perched on a white bar stool being harangued by pinging harpists. But I have to get this off my chest.

You were right. Remember how I would roll my eyes whenever you brought up the subject of manners? How I would call you an elitist and a snob for saying someone exhibited ''bad breeding'' by acting in a manner you deemed improper?

Well, guess what happened to me this morning? A man sitting next to me on a tram sneezed all over me. Yes, I felt the spray of moist germs hitting my skin. It was disgusting and I felt like punching him. You see, he didn't bother covering his nose when he let go, or using a hanky as you always urged us kids to do. He just snotted all over me without a care.

It's not the first time this has happened to me either, mum. I swear you would go nuts seeing what's going on out there today in a society where it appears parents are nowhere near as vigilant as you were in instilling manners and polite behaviour. In fact, in many cases it's the parents who are setting the example.

You see it's not just sneezing that's going unchecked. I have not seen a person of any age cover their mouth while yawning for years now. Seems that exhalation of stale air is OK to be enjoyed by all in confined spaces, along with hacking coughs and - hold on to your seat here, ma - the loud, guttural discharging of lurgy mucus in public.


It's true, I swear! I had a man let go right near my suede shoes the other day. The yellow-speckled glob of pox barley missed me. I swear I almost lost my lunch along with my temper.

I hate to think what would have happened if you'd seen it. It would have been an interesting showdown, that's for sure. I know who I would have been cheering for.

But it doesn't end here, mum. Oh no. It's your worst nightmare out there. Girls who don't pick up their feet when they walk are commonplace, that sliding slop sound of thongs being dragged on cement you likened to fingernails on a blackboard the soundtrack to every crowd.

As much as I hated you clipping me across the ears every time I did that, I now want to do the same to these girls. And, yes, they rarely stand with their shoulders back either. I know, they'll all wind up hunchbacked. And the open-mouthed chewing of gum trend you claimed made girls look ''common'' like ''masticating cows'' hasn't abated either.

There are new annoyances, too, mum. People these days have things called mobile phones, which are conduits to bad behaviour all round. People have conversations with other people on these while they are talking, even dining, in company.

Walking down the street, people will stop and answer their phones, blocking the path of others, oblivious to anything other than some inane text message. It's driving me crazy, mum. You'd be - what did you used to say? - apoplectic.

Here's another gripe of mine that would get you seething and teeth grinding. Men walk around without shirts on all the time these days. No, not just at the beach, in bars, on the street, in shops. Yes, you can see their underarm hair while you're eating. Yes, it's gross. Most have tattoos and nipple piercings, too, ma. I reckon you'd be tapping them on the shoulder and asking them to put on a shirt if you were still here, bless you.

And to think you gave my brother hell when he was slack with ironing.

Another thing I need to apologise about is the way I thought you were Cruella de Vil for calling out ''adult time'' when your friends came around to visit. This, I swear, never happens now. Kids are allowed to interrupt adults mid-conversation and request anything from a drink to a change of video on the TV constantly blaring cartoons for their amusement in the background. Yes, while the adults are catching up. I know, it's madness.

I'd hate you to see what the kids are wearing these days. Yes, I use that word I hated you calling me when I was a teenager. I'm talking girls in shorty shorts with ample bum cheeks hanging out. I can hear you now aghast screeching, ''I can almost see what they had for breakfast!''

I must admit I find it unsightly and sad, too. Girls feel they need to look hot these days to attract men, which means dressing like $20 hookers who would gladly give change in a lot of cases. You would never have let me out the door looking like that - another thing I cannot thank you enough for in hindsight. I'm also glad you would have wiped half the make-up off my face along with the false eyelashes, reminding me all the while I am only young once and make-up can wait.

Anyway, mum, I had better go. I have to drive across town and don't want to be late. I can still hear you in my ear saying tardiness is rudeness.

Saturday Age columnist Wendy Squires is a journalist, editor and author.

Twitter: @Wendy_Squires