May 6th, 2011


A short one on a national pastime

The British are obsessed with queuing. They love it. And I have to set my stall out here straight away, I think I'm a fan of it too. On the whole it's stress-free and it seems civilised and polite and thoughtful, in fact all those things that the world perceives the British to be that they are actually not. I suppose those qualities are relative but in Britain today I don't see as much politeness and thoughtfulness as I once did. It seems we are adopting the bad habits and worst aspects, along with so many other appalling things, of our apparent ally and puppet master to the west. (You know, the one with all the money, guns, food you don't use cutlery with, the idea that the longer the word is the more descriptive it must be, where fast means good and civilised means like them. No, not France, look to the west, my friend, the west.) But that is another story, and I could bore you with my views about it until you choked on your own entrails. I wouldn't want that, I'm too polite and thoughtful after all.

I was amused the other day as I was queuing in Boots waiting to pay for my sandwiches. There was the serious complication of someone who had left their pushchair in the spot that the queue normally occupies while they went to select their sandwiches. This meant that the queue had to form up in a slightly different place around the obstacle and still allow people to actually enter the shop. This in turn meant that there was the opportunity for a sub-queue to form, a splinter queue, of but not actually physically with the main queue. Queuers started to get flustered when people who had arrived after them began getting served before them. That's not British, that's just plain wrong. I even found myself beginning to tut.

You will be pleased to learn, it all sorted itself out in the end. The obstacle moved, the splinter queue dispursed (it's rebellion, boldness and gall throttled) and order was restored. But it did get me wondering about why we become so hot blooded about the sanctity of the queue. If only we realised it, the British are no more than talented amateurs when it comes to queuing. In my humble experience, and with the help of anecdote, I award the world championship of queuing to my wonderful friends the Russians. They know how to queue. We could learn a lot from the way Russians do things.

There is now a citizenship test for people who wish to settle in Britain. I think one aspect of the test should be a practical exam. I don't think people who want to live here need to know ridiculous things like who the Prime Minister is (in fact I'm not too sure about that either), what the words of our dreary, monotonous national anthem are (I feel they should only be sung when the monarch is actually in genuine peril), or where Biggleswade is. Everyone applying should be herded into a room, in groups, and told to form an orderly queue. The ones who can do it with no words, no fuss and no mistakes get automatic entry. Simples.