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Stiff Upper Lip

It's All The Rage

Whatever happened to the stiff upper lip? Major national adversities, such as England’s performance in the 2006 World Cup, may bring out the self-controlled best in us as a nation, but in everyday circumstances, there is evidence that we are rapidly losing the knack of taking it on the chin, knuckling under and carrying on regardless. Not just public tears but explosions of rage suddenly seem to be our speciality.

Road rage

It all seems to have begun with road rage, the red mist that descends over a certain type of (mostly male) driver when he is overtaken too sharply by another driver, or subjected to some other indignity equally compromising of his self-esteem. If he happens to have clashed with another driver of the same temperament, a road rage incident can quickly turn extremely ugly.

The term “road rage” originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s, but has comprehensively spread to this side of the Atlantic. On an ascending scale, road rage behaviour might include: frantic headlight flashing; obscene gestures (read our V-Sign feature, International Hand Gestures, here); verbal abuse; criminal damage to another car; reckless driving, such as tailgating or ramming; physical assault, resulting in actual or grievous bodily harm; and even murder.

Techniques for controlling road rage, as recommended by Drivers Domain UK, include raising a hand in your rear-view mirror to acknowledge your error, analysing the situation objectively to yourself and implicitly seeing how trivial it really is, and reminding yourself that the other driver is a human being too, possibly with a wife and family, and that he is probably just late for a meeting - and in any case you’ll never have to see him again. What to do if he runs you on to the hard shoulder and threatens you with a monkey wrench isn’t specified.

Road Rage isn’t always externally directed. There have been cases of motorists laying into their own cars, Basil Fawlty-fashion, on returning to find them clamped.

Actor Vinnie Jones after pleading guilty to "air rage" offences, 2003
Actor and former footballer Vinnie Jones leaving Uxbridge Magistrates Court in 2003 after pleading guilty to air rage offences while returning from Japan
© TopFoto.co.uk
Air rage

If newspaper reports are anything to go by, incidents of air rage are confined to rock, film and sports stars who feel that the provision of in-flight alcohol isn’t quite as generously forthcoming as it might be. Screaming “Don’t you know who I am?!” at the cabin crew is usually thought the best way of correcting this anomaly.

Back in Economy Class, air rage is generally a combination of claustrophobia, lack of breathable air and the bum-numbing tediousness of sitting in the same seat for ten hours. It helps if you can sleep, but for those who can’t, air travel offers a bewildering variety of provocations - from the passenger in front of you who insists on reclining their seat back until you can smell their hair gel, to the power-struggle for armrest space with your neighbour, which the laws of physics dictate that only one of you can win.

The general ban on smoking on planes has undoubtedly aggravated some (while making life hugely more comfortable for others), but it is perhaps the sheer feeling of having surrendered all control of your life to some higher authority for the duration of what may well be a long, arduous journey that takes its toll on the thin-skinned.

Five hours in a plane seat is judged to be about the longest the average traveller can withstand before the fractious infant in all of us starts making its presence felt.

An important sub-division of air rage is airport rage, the irrational anger felt by people who have perfectly reasonably been asked to sit in a departure lounge for 24 hours without sustenance, information or official sympathy. Fascinating examples of this are shown regularly on Airport and other fly-on-the-wall TV shows. Tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you…

Queue rage

As supermarket queues lengthen, and tempers shorten, explosions of anger at having to stand patiently in line to buy two clementines and a pan-scourer are becoming more common. Retailers report a staggering 65% of shoppers have personally witnessed or been the victims of queue rage.

Lack of progress in the queue causes the most irritation, especially when it appears to derive from an assistant who is inexperienced with the till, has to keep ringing for the supervisor, or is just operating at an inappropriately sedate pace. Widespread use of debit and credit cards has slowed things down since the days when most people used to pay with ready money (although grumblers and tutters should give thanks we are no longer living in the manual cheque-writing era).

Other incitements are: people who don’t have their method of payment ready when the cashier has finished; people who leave a pile of shopping on the conveyor belt while they go tearing off round the store for another couple of items they have forgotten; people who have too many items at a “Five Items Or Fewer” checkout, and people who assume everybody else is as amused by the antics of their unruly children as they are.

Cashpoints can be another flashpoint. A queuer who has parked on double-yellow lines and left their engine running is unlikely to be notably patient when caught behind one of those people who appear never to have used cash dispensers before, and must read each instruction word for word before weighing up their options.

The single queue system in operation in post offices and railway stations, though not yet generally in supermarkets or at fast-food counters, has undoubtedly raised average waiting times. While undeniably fairer in that it operates strictly on the first-come-first-served (and therefore last-come-last-served) principle, it denies the enterprising queuer the chance of judging which looks likely to be the quickest queue. Surveys show that we approve of single queuing, even though it may well be responsible for more heightened blood pressure than its predecessor.

Research by credit company Visa suggests that eight minutes in a queue is the tipping-point. If nothing else puts paid to the persistent myth that the British love queuing, queue rage should do it.

Computer rage
© TopFoto.co.uk
Computer rage

Your PC crashes just as you are about to save that ten-page document, and no, it hasn’t auto-saved it when you restart. It suddenly starts crawling along at snail’s pace when you really need to find that train time in a hurry. A pop-up keeps prompting you to buy a Lottery ticket when you are in the middle of working. The important e-mail you are trying to send keeps bouncing back because the recipient’s inbox is full. You click to download the latest system updates only to find they will take 45 minutes to install, during which time you mustn’t run other programs. The word processor keeps wrongly “correcting” your spelling because it thinks you are American…

The mind-blowing complexity of IT systems has produced the greatest gulf between everyday user and technology in history. Most of us haven’t the faintest idea why things go wrong with our computers, still less what to do about them when they do. Many is the keyboard that will feel the impact of slamming fists in such circumstances, an action only likely of course to add to the menu of problems.

Other rages…

Perhaps you have encountered (or are guilty of) other kinds of social rage. Phone rage on dealing with call-centre staff, or being cold-called just when EastEnders has started? Cinema rage at being surrounded by chattering and sweet-wrapper rustling? Rail rage on sitting in a static train in the midst of rainswept farmland when you need to be in London within the next five minutes? We’d love to hear about it. Who knows? Sharing it might just calm you down.