Consider, for just one moment, what Britain has to be ashamed of. We are participating in a war against Afghanistan in which the majority of Britain’s citizens don’t understand what we’re fighting for. One million people were ignored in the march against the war in Iraq, which subsequently proved to be a disastrous episode, only entered at the behest of an illiterate war-mongering tosser. When we were an empirical force, we mercilessly rampaged through countries, pillaging their resources and placing local people under the rule of thuggish soldiers, only relinquishing power when it was clear we couldn’t afford such exploits, not because it was the right thing to do.
We hold our noses whenever asylum seekers or immigrants try to better their life chances by joining us on this sceptred isle. We bail out banks to the tune of billions, yet cry foul whenever it is suggested we should give more money to poor countries, either to help them combat the climate change we are perpetuating with unnecessary 4x4s or to feed their people, who starve while we chuck away our fruit and veg the second it starts going brown.
Despite all this, there is one aspect of British life which brings on a state of paranoia better than any drug The Beatles took. That is the politics of opening doors. The advances of feminism have been a good thing – women are less likely to become a human gumball machine, despatching a new child every nine months.
However, a few short-haired, loony characters wearing dungarees and the facial expression of someone who has always hated men (the kind of woman that would make a drunkard in a pub say “the only thing that would sort her out is a good fucking”) take things too far. They say men should never hold open the door for women, as it shows that we remain chauvinist pigs stuck in the middle age, believing that women expend enough of their mental capabilities on knowing how the bread machine works, let alone the dynamics of opening a door and walking through it.
I’m not sure about anyone else, but in general, I hold a door open for people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, game show preference or whether they speak Swahili. Nonetheless, it is a precise science, because you don’t want to be left holding a door open for too long or you turn from a kind stranger into a doorstop.
By my calculations, if someone is within 5.6 metres behind you, there is a moral obligation to leave the door open for them. There is a hinterland between 5.6 and 10.3 metres, where the decision is at your discretion, but after that, you just look desperate to come across as a likeable, adjusted figure, happy to be late for whichever social engagement you happen to be walking towards, safe in the knowledge that you won a smile from a stranger and a mumbled word of “thanks”.
Another worry. When walking behind someone who is leaving multiple doors open for me, I don’t know how often to say “thanks”. The first time? Every time? Every other time? Only when your horoscope mentions the word “kelp”?
On the other hand, if I was to open a door for someone and I received no thanks in return I would be a little peeved. Even a little nod of the head would suffice. But if I opened a door for a green-haired dumpling carrying a rucksack full of Germaine Greer novels, only to be on the nasty end of a lecture about the way women have been treated disgustingly over the centuries and that by opening a door for her I was merely adding my name to the list of sexist bigots who have kept women firmly in their undeserved place, I would probably never open a door again.
When I open a door for someone it is not on the pretext that they couldn’t do the same thing. When I open a door for a black person, I’m not trying to atone for the centuries of slavery that his ancestors had to endure or make an anti-racist statement. I am being kind to a fellow human being. When I open a door for a disabled person, I’m not trying to demonstrate my sturdy prowess as a fully functioning human. I am being kind to a fellow human being.
When I open a door for a woman, I am not doing so because I believe they are incapable or not strong enough. It is usually because they are good-looking.