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A plea for decorum.


AN OLD FRIEND suggested that I may be becoming a little autistic in my old age after I berated him for not buttoning his button-down collar and insisting he did so. When I told my wife about this she said it is probably more to do with the fact that I’m getting increasingly finicky in my dotage and less restrained about voicing my opinions. I think I agree with her, and I would go further and say that I believe my age confers on me an absolute right to be opinionated and vocal. I haven’t spent 64 years on the planet without learning a thing or two that others couldn’t also benefit from hearing, even if they are older than me.

That finickiness has mainly been sartorial. I often find myself looking at the sorry state of men and their attire, muttering, “Why don’t you wear something smarter for a change? You look like a total slob.” The access to cheap, comfortable and varied clothing is a real boon, especially informal wear, I know — I grew up when a lot of clothing was still fairly expensive — but I just wish men would occasionally forego the sloppy combinations of jeans, tee shirts, sweatshirts, casual jackets and especially those awful, brightly coloured trainers, for something more smart and formal. You know, trousers, shirts (tucked in, of course), sports jacket, and proper shoes, ones that have to be polished regularly. Just once in a while. With or without a tie; I’m not a total fashion fascist.

Decorum is one of those words rarely heard any more because it sounds so old-fashioned, so archaic. Probably the only time most people hear it is if they read the Wilfred Owen poem.

I think it has something to do with a personal, nostalgic revival of the idea of decorum. My father was a well-dressed man and I should have followed his example a lot earlier. People of his generation had a sense of sartorial appropriateness. Decorum is one of those words rarely heard any more because it sounds so old-fashioned, so archaic. Probably the only time most people hear it is if they read the Wilfred Owen poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, which basically kills it dead as a virtue. That’s a pity, because it’s a quality our politicians should possess — which means the gents wearing a tie when appearing in front of the media or at least during their professional duties.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with the idea of something being fitting or appropriate or proper. It has more gravitas than its pale, prissy cousin, “acceptable”. As Sir Roger Scruton says, of the function of ceremony in British public life but which can apply to dress, it separates “the offices of government from the people who occup[y] them, so ensuring…that the rights and duties of an office should not be the personal property of its tenant.” That’s decorum.

Which is exactly what Mr Magid, Lord Mayor of Sheffield, does not appreciate. Magid Magid, an erstwhile Somalian refugee, generated a heap of publicity for himself by “banning” Donald Trump from Sheffield. He was photographed squatting on a table in the Town Hall, wearing his official chain over a black tee shirt that read “Donald Trump is a wasteman”, and sporting a Mexican sombrero. I don’t get the significance of the sombrero but assume he cleared this somehow with the Cultural Appropriation Committee.

Magid was a participant in the reality TV show Hunted (reality as in “reality”, that is) in which he came across as resourceful, energetic, humorous and likeable. These qualities have no doubt played a great part in his political career in the Green Party. His antics will appeal to those who consider themselves iconoclasts and a bit edgy, in the style of “sticking it to the Man” of my own youth. So for Magid, Brexit is “racist” and “xenophobic”, the Queen is hard-working but should be replaced with an elected head of state because the system she represents is outdated and needs shaking up, etc. Predictable, stale, unimaginative, conformist politics, in other words, and Magic Magid believes he’s the man to do the shaking.

Call me Mr Cynical but I suspect Magid’s real passion is for himself, and he doesn’t appreciate the fact that the position of Mayor is something of itself and nothing to do with his own ego. A bit more decorum would serve him better and prevent what I believe will be the reaction to his posturing when he has left the post, namely embarrassment.

Small things, I admit, but the accumulation of small matters plays a big part in life. Even making sure you button down your button-down collar. Which I shall insist you do should we chance to meet.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.

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