Would you care to see my Tube?

December 21, 2001

We live in an inelegant age. As the authors of The Chap Manifesto state: "At every level, the populace worships an unholy trinity of aspiration, vulgarity and self-regard." What can be done about it - and what is the definition of a Chap? Someone who is prepared to stand up and be counted? Well, here are some tips.

Take smoking. To light a cigarette or, worse, a pipe, is now widely regarded as politically incorrect, and yet "tobacco smoke contains precisely zero calorific content, but is as satisfying and enticing as a three-course meal". Blowing smoke rings is an art, practised today only by the favoured few, and yet of immense value, particularly to a Chap who is doing his best to impress a member of the opposite sex. Unquestionably it needs real skill. Turn to page 61 of this manual, and you will find various designs - some fairly easy, such as the Figure Eight and the Flying Bird but others much more tricky. The Saturns, recalling the lovely planet with its system of rings, is "complex and difficult to master". I admit that I have yet to see a really well-executed Saturn, and I am limited to the more elementary Tube and Triple Drift.

Courtesy is, of course, discussed in some detail. Have you ever been plagued by the noise of a personal stereo when you are travelling in a bus or train? Most people will suffer in silence. Not so the Chap. "Using the sinuous stealth of the puma, undulate your way through the throng and insinuate yourself in a position adjacent to the offender." A careful snip with nail scissors is enough to produce immediate quiet, though it is wise to "make your strike shortly before your transport reaches a stop, so that you can make a swift getaway before your victim has worked out exactly what has happened." You will certainly earn the gratitude of fellow passengers.

Motoring presents a different set of problems, but the Chap must always remember to be considerate, particularly to elderly pedestrians who are doddering gently across the road directly in the line of fire. Encourage them on their way by "cheerfully tooting your horn and revving your engine throughout the course of their passage". Once the pedestrian has reached the safety of the pavement on the opposite side of the road, he will "gratefully acknowledge your assistance with enthusiastic gesticulation". It may well be that two fingers of one hand will be very much in evidence.

Proper dress and grooming are all important to the Chap. Hairstyles are many and varied. Do you like the Handlebar, the Soap String, the Goatee or perhaps the Chiff-chafro? My own favourite is, I think, the Dandelion, because it is suited to scientists. It looks rather strange, but "the boffin's nightly liaisons with test tube and Bunsen burner leave him with little time to dally with the concept of 'style'." Perhaps he should revert to the Rococo or the Periwig.

Another useful set of rules applies to "chappism for the ladies". Make-up is always important but accessories are vital, and the most essential accessory is, of course, the Gentleman. "Although there are many convincing fakes on the market these days, there is nothing to beat the real thing." For the amorous male, there are some convenient opening gambits, such as:

"Would you like to examine the stars with me? I believe Ursa Minor is particularly splendid tonight."

Inner thoughts and revolutionary sentiments can be transmitted by the Trouser Semaphore, but there can be rather embarrassing moments too - hence the need for "lavatorial etiquette". If a Chap is forced to make use of a public convenience, "enter with back upright, walk purposefully and affect a facial expression as neutral and unremarkable as a long weekend in Bournemouth". And if you happen to meet an acquaintance, nod briefly and make a dignified exit.

There are other good sections, such as the Shirk Ethic, aimed at the world's workers ("surely there is no activity more calculated to corrode the human spirit than paid employment") and "gentlemanly ailments", ranging from Handshaker's Thumb to the Fox-trot Fibula.

Yet it is fair to say that other sections simply do not work, and there are one or two that would have been far better omitted. The book is decidedly uneven. But it certainly offers the sort of entertaining dip often to be found occupying some convenient ledge in what some people (though never a proper Chap) call "the smallest room in the house".

Sir Patrick Moore is an astronomer and author.

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