WE live in an age of formal manners and sartorial properties. The world has turned anticasual. If you doubt this, permit me to cite a couple of recent excerpts from the Times of London. The first concerns the northern English form of address, ``love'' - or ``luv,'' as it is more often spelled. It's common enough up in the moors and down in the dales of Yorkshire or in the back streets of Lancashire mill towns. ``'Ow are you, luv?'' is far more usual than ``'ullo.'' Or ``That'll be 4 pounds 90, luv'' at the supermarket checkout. It's the normal thing to call people in these parts - though it's true that while men address women thus, and women men, and women women, and everyone children, men do not use it to address men.
Well, now ``luv'' is in trouble, and for this we have to thank a certain Mary Chettoe of Leeds.
This good lady (and I don't doubt she's good) is serving on her city's new consumer liaison panel for British Telecom. BT is the privatized but still more or less wall-to-wall national company running telephonic and other forms of communication in this country. And BT has been coming under some fairly heavy criticism for the quality of its services of late. The idea of the nationwide liaison panels is to improve BT's relations with its customers. They are to act as a forum for suggestions, inquiries, and improvements.
I could come up with a few inquiries myself - viz: Wouldn't it be more effective if the quantities of engineers who periodically appear on my doorstep with intent to repair faults occasionally communicated with each other? (They could even do so by phone.)
But there are improvements already in some places as a result of these BT panels, so a cheer or two may well be due for them. A third cheer, I believe, however, may be better withheld on account of the Chettoe Factor.
Mrs. Chettoe has brought about something that is little less than revolutionary. She proposed that the telephone operators in Yorkshire ought to address female customers no longer as ``luv.'' They should henceforth call them ``Madam.'' And, quite incredibly, her suggestion has been taken up. It's official. ``Luv'' is not allowed at BT in Yorkshire.
If I were a Yorkshire woman I would much prefer to be called ``luv.'' ``Madam'' is distant, unfriendly, feudal, and Victorian. ``Luv'' is companionable, amiable, and democratic. And we need more of it.
THE other Times piece followed a week later. The headline said: ``Writing may be on the wall for `scruffy' teachers.'' David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, had voiced some pretty stinging criticisms of ``the one or two teachers in every school who are not pulling their weight.'' His remarks, in fact, sounded rather like the things one hears quoted from Soviet newspapers, when party officials are exhorted to Work Harder. There are thousands of teachers, Mr. Hart added, that ``neither look like, nor act like, professionals.'' They should be ``removed from the profession with all due speed.''
Well! The National Union of Teachers did not take too kindly to the secretary's remarks. And what it liked least was his slur on the way some teachers dress. Hart had said that no teacher should go to school wearing jeans. ``I am not saying that all teachers should wear suits, but they at least should look like professionals. Persistently scruffy teachers should be disciplined.'' Parents, he claimed, always judged schools by the appearance of staff.
The union countered, ``Dress is a subjective matter, but our view is that the vast majority of men and women who teach in schools are smartly turned out and presentable.''
Arguably, it seems to me, jeans might well be the ideal wear for teachers, particularly those engaged in messier forms of instruction like chemistry, biology, art, or cooking. Also, casting one's mind back, I wonder if most of us have any recollection of the relative sartorial finesse or turpitude of the teachers that dominated our school days. The teachers I remember with most admiration and affection I'm sure gave the least amount of thought to how they were ``turned out.'' What mattered was the infectious love of their subject, not their legwear.
Still, I suppose, those of us who prefer to be casual slobs should be tolerant of the stuffed-shirt brigade and determined formality-mongers of our society. And there is, anyway, one possible alternative for teachers who simply can't get hold of the idea of dressing ``properly.'' They can always get jobs as telephone operators for BT. Surely, Mrs. Chettoe, you won't object to what these invisible professionals wear - will you, luv?