It’s a cliche universally acknowledged that two Englishmen in close proximity is a queue in want of a purpose. The way by which one may distinguish a true Englishman (and I use man in the widest sense, inasmuch as it includes any and everybody) from those others who merely wish they were English is simple: place a random selection of people in a room and the ones who form a queue (even if the queue is to escape the room) are truly English. I wonder if UKIP use this fact in their campaigns, targeting the queues that form for no reason other than the laws of gravity (English, remember)? You certainly never hear them talk about immigrants waiting to enter the country, while Cameron, in his turn, seems intent on starting the naturalisation process early, by making ‘them’ wait before they may claim benefits. It’s a wonder he hasn’t said that ‘they’ must ‘wait in line like the rest of us’.
The humble queue is not merely the instinct of the English, but is its birthright. As William Wallace would have said had he been English and not Scots, ‘you can take our lands, you can take our lives, but you’ll never stop us queuing!’ The royal family, for all their pretensions to being British, are as we know, German. the first Hanoverian to take the throne, and from whom the current lot have descended, albeit not necessarily in order, was George I. His grandmother, the ancestor who ties the line back to to the British Isles, was Elizabeth … of Bohemia. She wasn’t English, either, being the production of a Scots father (James I), and a Danish mother (Anne). It’s obvious when you look back, think about the convoluted paths of succession, the various abdications, the obvious desire for an abdication in our nation-defining Royal Family, that these are people for whom queuing is an imposition, not an instinct.
So. I arrive at the ticket office at Brighton station only to be accosted by some uniformed oppressor (who had the temerity to smile, and oppress when he smiled), who told me there was a ‘new system’: I must now press a touch-screen indicating my purpose for visiting, upon which I am issued a ticket. Then I must wait for my number to be called as if it’s a deli counter. My natural English conservatism ensured my acquiescence in the same breath as I muttered dire imprecations against this new-fangled, modern nonsense. There are obvious flaws in the system. firstly there’s really nowhere to loiter while waiting other than outside, which leads to people taking longer to get to the desks than before, and if, heavens forfend, they indulge in a little small talk, they’re likely to take even longer as they forget they’re holding a ticket. Then, when you get to the ticket desk there’s a chair, which immediately necessitates a decision. It seems as if the whole system has been designed to take longer. And that before we get to contemplating the shameless slaughtering of innocent sylvan life, and the nonsensical option of tickets for ‘future travel’. Well, really. As if I want to buy a ticket for yesterday. It’s all wrong.
But this is all small beer (more on that anon). This all pales into insignificance when you consider the true, cultural impact of turning a good, old-fashioned queue into a box-ticking exercise. True, the Englishman will always complain about the queue they’re in, but here we few, we happy few, we … two … found ourselves complaining about being denied the spontaneous expression of our Englishness that is queue-formation. This may sound trivial (though only to you, johnny foreigner) but this denial is a serious business. Even ignoring the gradual erosion of our opportunities to exercise discretion (the better part of valour, remember?), this new method is just un-English. it strikes at the very heart of our cultural life and self-identification. I’m an Englishman, dammit! I know how to stand in line!
Perhaps this is why, tickets grasped in hand, the amorphous mass that was ‘the customers’ formed itself into a queue: in peacetime, as powerful a defender of Englishness as the Supermarine Spitfire was in times of war. We knew what was what. We knew, deep down in the core of our being, in our collective unconsciousness, exactly what Milton meant by the final line of his sonnet, When I Consider How My Light is Spent:
They also serve who only stand and wait (in line).