The third in an occasional series of guest posts by our etiquette expert R.M. Banks.
Having downed a goblet of Banks’s patented hangover cure, I find myself enjoying a moment of clarity in regard to a question that has been floating in the cranial ullage like a cellarman’s cigarette end: Should one, in this progressive age, emit a cheer when a glass is smashed by the barkeep?
‘Surely, Banks,’ you cry, haughtily (yes, I’m afraid these interjections of yours do strike me as haughty, and, there — now I’ve said it) ‘there are more pressing matters to which you might apply the newly-honed razor-like edge of the Great Brain? Affairs of nations, or matters metaphysical?’
To which I say: Many a mickle makes a muckle, and refuse to be drawn further on the matter.
Now, if you’ll only be quiet for a moment, let us away to the Red Lion, where we lay our scene: it is a busy Wednesday evening, shall we say, the usual crowd gathered around the quiz machine, and a hum of conversation almost equal in volume to the hum of the antique cheese rolls on the back bar. Then, in an instant, this idyll is disturbed: as if it were a greased aubergine, Bert the Hat’s favourite handled jug springs from the barkeep’s moist palms and onto the flagstones, whereupon it makes a sounds as of bells of gold, and retires from its long career as a vessel suitable for containing liquids.
For a sliver of a second, blessed silence falls, and then… well, what?
Tradition-cum-habit dictates that the tension be broken with a round of applause and huzzahs from the sots there gathered. The barkeep, with good humour, acknowledges his error, a youthful smile playing across the oral aperture, secure in the knowledge that the whooping expresses affection, understanding, empathy for his momentary humiliation.
I go further: in my youth, it would have been a breach of etiquette not to cheer. Such reticence would have marked the tight-lipped individual out as a spoilsport, a party-pooper and a cold fish at best, but more probably as a psychopath or police officer, if not both.
But now is not then and etiquette adapts, like a bicycle seat to a new owner. Emit a cheer in such a situation today and you will likely find yourself, if not quite alone, then accompanied only by that chap who sits in the window seat and smells of eggs, and the lady in the snug who insists on playing the spoken word tracks from the Four Weddings and a Funeral soundtrack on the jukebox.
Dear pupil, I urge you to suppress the instinct to cheer — biff it on the scalp with a metaphorical mallet the moment you sense it yearning to be free. Or better yet, drown it with a draught of beer.
The weary barkeep, for whom the ritual cheer has no doubt become a rather tired piece of business, will thank you for your restraint.