By HAROLD NICOLSON
IT is for me sad and strange that so many men and women over the age of forty, having demonstrably acquired adult status, should in the minor affairs of life behave in a manner so inexperienced as to be adolescent. One would have supposed, for instance, that a matron of forty-seven years of age, having passed a large section of her life in cities where human beings congregate, would have learnt by now that if one wants to have a chat with a friend one should not choose for this performance the exact spot where the bottle narrows to a neck. One would have supposed again that any adult woman, having within the last ten years purchased at least three thousand tickets on the Underground railway, would by now have acquired the habit of producing with a minimum of delay both the name of her destination and the sum required. Few people would deny that in such matters women are more blame- worthy than men. No man, wishing as he leaves a cinema or theatre to discuss with a companion the nationalisation of the steel industry, would . select the doorway or exit as the site for this conversation : he would embark upon his argument either in the hall of the theatre or in the street outside. Yet we all know that women will pass with speed and silence through the foyer and hall and that on reaching the doorway they will pause suddenly, indifferent to the congestion they are causing, and enter into a long and intimate discussion as to who shall drop whom first. An even greater strain is caused by the conduct of women who purchase railway tickets at stations. A man will state his destination rapidly and firmly and will at the same time produce deftly the two pennies and the half- penny required for his fare. A woman, when her turn comes to face the lighted aperture, feels that at last she has got the situation to herself. .She will begin the conversation with a few leading questions. Is this the right line for Kensington High Street ? Will she have to change? And how much will that be? Having received answers to these questions she will start the process of delving. First comes the bag, and then the satchel within the bag, and then the purse within the satchel, and then the ten shilling note within the purse. Pleased with herself, she will at last trip onwards, unaware of the designs for murder which have been forming in her rear.
* * * Men, I believe, possess temperamentally a more developed social and civic sense. Yet men also, on occasions, display a lack of experi- ence which suggests that they also have not acquired the habit of adjusting themselves with thought and reason to the minor incon- veniences of life. I was travelling up from Cambridge the other morning in a thick fog. Our train was much delayed and as we approached the outskirts of London it became evident from the fre- quency of our pauses, and the infrequency of the fog signals slam- ming, that we should be more than an hour late. In my compart- ment was a man who manifested all the symptoms of impatience. He was not perhaps a very manly man, since he carried, in place of an attaché case, a reticule of soft leather, which may of course have been lent him at the last moment by his daughter or his wife. He con- fined himself at first to pulling out his watch from time to time and making sharp ejaculations indicating resentment and distress. But when we had paused for some ten minutes at some suburban siding he pulled down the window and thrust his angry head right out into the fog which swirled around. A moment's thought should have convinced him that by so doing he was indulging in a wholly useless expenditure of nervous energy. His action would not incite the railway company to great hazards ; nor could it disperse the fog. It seemed to me an inexperienced sort of thing to do.
The middle-aged should surely cherish and nurture those few compensations which age and experience provide. One of the most comforting of these compensations is the acquired habit of conserving nervous energy. Yet many adults of-my acquaintance continue to thrust their heads out of carriage windows in a fog. There is this business, for instance, of "catching trains." I have learnt from
experience that the amount of nervous energy which is expended when one is in danger of missing a train is greater than that expended if one has to wait fifteen minutes upon the platform before the train comes in. Yet I have a friend of my own age—a distin- guished man in his way—who still attributes to the word " catching " those sporting associations which are implied in the expressions "catching salmon" or "catching hares." He lived in Belgrade at one time and he had worked out to the fraction of a second the time required to dash from his house to the station in order to " catch " the Orient Express. He possessed a powerful car, and an adventurous chauffeur, and an immunity from train fever which induced him to regard with sadistic contempt those of his guests who were victims of that reputable disease. He would assume a Gestapo look when one started to fret. And then would follow a nightmare of sixteen minutes and a half when one dashed through the steep streets of the Yugoslav capital, screeched round sharp corners, shot in between the carts of the market gardeners, dashed panting along the platform, and reached the train as whistles were blowing and flags being waved. "Pretty neat, what? "he would exclaim in delight as one was bundled into the sleeping car. He himself would return to his home with a sense of triumph ; but as the train trundled on amid the sleeping homesteads of the Slovenes, his guest, by now a complete nervous wreck, would sit still panting on his bunk.
* * * * I might well, had I not possessed the Englishman's aversion from talking in trains, have addressed to my fellow-traveller from Cam- bridge a short homily upon the art of conserving nervous energy. "My dear Sir," I might have said to him, "you are doing yourself wrong. Your agitation at this moment will not, by the fraction of a second, advance the time of our arrival at Liverpool Street Station. It may be that the fog and the resultant dislocation of the train service will render you late for an important appointment. To miss that appointment may, for all I know, entail the ruin of your career or the destruction of your domestic happiness. Your lateness may, in any case, entail a most unpleasant interview. But if that be so, then surely you will need, in order to acquit yourself well at that interview, to be in possession of all your clarity and calm. By poking your head out of the window and into the fog you are not only inconveniencing your fellow-passengers, you are not only expos- ing yourself to needless strain, but you are unfitting yourself for the perhaps painful interview which, when we arrive at Liverpool Street Station, will confront you." I might, had I been less reserved, have added to this homily a few general prescriptions. I might have spoken as follows. "I also," I Might have said, "am an impatient man. But I have learnt from long experience that profitless im- patience entails an undue expenditure of nervous force. There is nothing that you can do about this matter ; so please close the window, resume your seat, and I can lend you an interesting book I have just finished which contains the findings of a Commission set up by Time Inc. and Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. upon the freedom of the American Press."
"Remember this," I might have added, "that when threatened with a storm of impatience, you should ask yourself Can I do anything about it ? ' If the answer is 'yes '—then you can do something ; if the answer is ' no ' then sit down and conserve nervous energy. If the answer is neither ' yes ' nor 'no,' then say to yourself, It is now 10.15. I shall not start getting impatient till 10.45: You will thereby have gained half an hour of repose." I might have said all this to the unhappy man, had I not been shy about homilies and he with his back towards me gazing piteously into the mist. A fog signal slammed suddenly and the train jerked again into motion. He pulled up the window and sank back into his seat. "Yes, I ought," he murmured in distress, "as they warned me, to have taken the 7.33."