WE British can take a lot. We know how to mourn, how to lose at football and how to survive a pandemic.
We’re patient and calm and tolerant.
Unless, that is, we see somebody jumping a queue.
We can forgive a lot, but not that.
Where does this come from? I suggest it’s because we have some deep, hard-wired sense of fairness and order that comes from being in a country that hasn’t been invaded for 956 years.
A country where, in the interests of fairness, 807 years ago Magna Carta had it in writing that neither the king nor government was above the law.
And it was during the reign of the last King Charles that the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 was passed to ensure that people couldn’t be locked up unless they were proved to have done something wrong.
We know that without fairness and order we have nothing.
We crave good order
You could even argue that the monarchy itself is an expression of this — the line (line being the American word for queue) of accession amounting to a clear “queue” of royals with the right to ascend to the throne.
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Although, to be fair, this is a queue that can be jumped if the next in line to the throne produces a child who then takes his or her place behind him. But let’s not go there.
The point is that while we often take our minds off the ball and lose our focus on fairness, deep down we all crave good order.
And the simplest physical expression of good order is the queue, any queue.
In our increasingly complicated lives, every queue has the advantage of being subject to one simple rule: Wait your turn.
While you’re in a queue, you can forget every other issue in your life — every other way in which something’s not been fair or in order.
While you’re in a queue, all that matters is getting to the front of it.
As long as everyone abides by the queue’s one single rule, your time will come. It’s almost meditative. Which is why if anyone breaches this simple rule and pushes in, we are simply appalled.
And the longer the queue in question, the fierier doth the rage burn.
It’s got to be said, I’m not sure they did a lot wrong.
They weren’t the only broadcasters who got into Westminster Hall without a day’s wait.
But when it comes to queuing, the red mist descends and we lose all reason.
Never mind Habeas Corpus and all that.
In the stocks of public opinion they were clamped, to be pelted virtually with rotten tomatoes, or anything else that came to hand.
Just like the lying in state, and the funeral itself, the public’s punishment of Phil and Holly has felt almost medieval.
I felt a similar red mist start to settle around me last week when I heard an eminent psychologist opine that the British aren’t especially good at queueing.
Whaaat?! I’d give the chap the Phil and Holly treatment if I had my way. How dare he!
To prove him wrong I want to suggest queueing as an Olympic sport.
Teams of a dozen from each nation would have to sprint down the 100m track but, instead of a tape at the finish line, there would be a wall with a door in it.
The nation whose athletes all got through the door in the shortest time would win.
They might as well award the gold to Team GB here and now.
We’d win by a mile.
They’d still all be jammed in the doorway even as the closing ceremony was taking place.
My favourite queue was the one for visa applications at the old US embassy in London before such things could be done online.
At around 8am, people of all shapes and sizes and ages would start forming a line before the doors opened at 9am.
Invariably some city fat cat in a pinstripe suit would get out of his chauffeur-driven car and look for the special VIP queue. There wasn’t one.
How I’d love to watch them stomp angrily to the back of the line.
I wouldn’t be in Holly or Phil’s shoes. They’ll never be able to stand in a queue now without someone reminding them of their sin against Britishness.
In a canteen, boarding a flight, in a post office, or wherever, a secondary queue will form of people lining up to give them a piece of their minds.
Hard though it is, we must find it in our hearts to forgive and forget.
It’s what Her Majesty would have wanted.
Other unforgivable sins in this United Kingdom
OTHER unforgivable sins in this United Kingdom:
- Not saying please and thank you.
- Throwing rubbish out of your car window.
- Leaving a pub without buying your round.
- Not waving or flashing your lights when another driver lets you in.
- Not apologising when someone stands on your foot.