Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Queues and British Stoicism

A peculiar characteristic of being British is being very patient and stoic even in the most difficult of times. This sort of resilience can be seen in all aspects of the British life: from our ability to hold the Germans at bay with some old rickety boats and a few squadrons of  Spitfires to our ability to stand in an orderly queue for hours on end without a fight breaking out.  We are a nation of stoics - any other country would have ejected Piers Morgan permanently. So today I thought I'd list my Top Ten Example Scenarios of British Stoicism...

No 1. It goes without saying that at the top of the examples list is the British habit of waiting patiently in a queue. Sometimes people wait in queues for whole days outside Harrods at sale-time or sleep on the pavements outside Buckingham Palace for a glimpse of Her Majesty. In fact, there is no greater crime in the UK than queue-jumping. Try it and you will be met with scathing looks or, at the very least, whispers about being mentally unstable, drunk or "not from around here." If you are in the doctors, dentists or hospital waiting room the conversation will always be about what position you are in the queue:

"He's first, I'm second, so you must be after the woman in the polka dot dress who's third."

"But my appointment is 10.30 and your card says 10.40."

"You were late. You've missed your place in the queue."

No 2. You're covered in blue welts, have ear ache, gangrene in one foot and ulcers on your tongue. Your neighbour sees you hobbling in your garden trying to hang out the washing and says:

" You don't look well. Why don't you go to the doctors?"

"There's nothing wrong with me. If I'm not better in a few days I'll book an appointment."

No 3. You've been waiting in the queue at the newsagents for a lottery ticket and a packet of Benson and Hedges ciggies. You get to the front of the queue and you say:

"I'll have two lucky dips and a packet of Benson and Hedges."

"I'm afraid the lottery machine's just broken down."

"Oh. Just the Benson and Hedges then."

"I'm afraid I've just sold the last three packets to the man with the walking stick."

"I'll have a packet of Gillette razors."

No 4. You're sitting outside your child's reception classroom. Your appointment was at 5.45 pm and it's now 7.55 pm.  The teacher bounces to the door wearing Jesus sandals, a flowered smock and a daisy chain around her neck.

"Who's next?"

You leap up overjoyed: "I am!"

The woman next to you bursts into tears: "I can't wait any longer. My mother's in hospital and my husband goes on night shift in thirty minutes."

You sit back down with a thump. "You can go first."

The teachers wraps her arms around the other parent and give you an encouraging wink. You open up your bag and take a Sudoku puzzle and fill in random numbers whilst you imagine torching the school.

No 5.

You ring British Telecommunications (BT) for the twentieth time to tell them your mother died three years ago, you no longer own that property and to stop harassing you for an outstanding payment you don't even owe.

"Oh, I see. I quite understand the problem. I'll just transfer you to someone who deals with this..."

" No! Wait......"

*Music plays*

No 6.

You go to the hairdresser and ask for a "few light waves" to add a bit of bounce to your thinning hair. Ninety minutes later you look in the mirror and see you've transformed from a middle-aged, white middle-class woman into a young Michael Jackson. You politely thank the hairdresser and walk to the nearest alternative hairdresser and ask them to cut it all off. Three months later, after you've spent thirty minutes smoothing down the last of the curls with extra strong gel, you open your Sudoku puzzle book and randomly fill out the numbers whilst fantasying about torching the hairdressers.

Your confidence can really be affected when you get the wrong haircut. If you're like me and get an unexpected afro it ain't so bad as you can say you're a big fan of MJ and you're going to a rock-star fancy dress party. Unfortunately, the  gentleman above couldn't use the same excuse as his haircut made him look like Justin Beiber.
No 7.

You've been waiting for fifteen minutes in the queue at the petrol station. When you finally pull up at the pump, just as you get out of your car the attendant appears and puts the "empty" sign on the diesel. You get back into your car, drive out of the station and onto the next petrol station. When you get there is it closed due to "unforeseen circumstances." You drive home without the air conditioning on, trying to not to brake or speed and wondering whether to stop en route and purchase a new book of Sudoku puzzles.

No 8.

You are just about to step on the 9.30 am train to London for a day's shopping, revisiting old haunts and tea with your best friend from college who you haven't seen for twenty years when your phone rings:


"Mrs Turley?"


"I'm afraid Ben's fallen over and has a slight scratch on one of his fingernails and the hairs on his eyebrows look slightly out of place."

"Is he concussed?

"I don't think so."

"Is he bleeding?"


"Well, he sounds okay. And as I'm just about to step on the train to London and I've already bought my ticket can you send him back to class, please."

"I really think you should come. It could turn into something serious."

*Long pause*

"Are you there, Mrs Turley?"


"We'll we see you in thirty minutes then. I'll give Ben a cold compress."

No 9.

You ring BT and get cut off. You ring BT and get cut off. You ring BT and get cut off. You ring BT and get through to customer services and just as you tell them your problem you get cut off. You ring BT, you get through, tell them your problem and then you get put on hold. After ten minutes on hold a man comes on the line and you tell him your problem again. He says "You've come through to the wrong department, I'll transfer you."

 *Music plays*

No 10.

You keep telling your son's teachers that your son has a learning difficulty. None of them believe you. You tell his teachers for 12 whole years that there is a problem. You try persuading them with reasoned arguments, gifts, irate letters, and finally raised voices. No one is interested. So you change schools. You spend vasts amount of money on extra Maths and English lessons and extra-curricular sports to boost this confidence. And just when you finally give up all hope that he will ever get any help he is finally diagnosed as dyslexic. For a moment you are elated .... until you discover that because of all the help you have given him he is within the "average" ability bracket so he will still not get any support from his school.

You contemplate hanging yourself from your washing line but realise that won't help matters. You must be stoic. You must be brave! You remember Winston Churchill's famous words and open a (very) large bar of chocolate in consolation.

"We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..."

So there you have it. That's what life is like in the UK unless you're the Queen who incidentally is ninety years old tomorrow. God bless her! (Even though she's probably never been in a queue.)


  1. Very funny Jane. Having worked in a school I can empathise with the secretary who plays down an injury. Nothing worse than being honest and having to try and calm an hysterical mother on the phone so that she's fit to drive and collect their child. Probably why I was told by phone that my son had a cut on his ear that might need "a stitch or two" when in fact he nearly lost the top of his ear and it took 18 stiches to fix. Queueing at bus stops seems to have gone out of fashion though which can be a pain at times.

    1. Your school sounds a lot more sensible, Wendy. I'm afraid every call-out I've had has been a false alarm. They are too nervous about health insurance at my boy's schools to take any logical decision on health care matters. I have even been called out to replace a bottle of eye drops for Ben which I sent in the packaging that came with Jacob's prescription (even though they take the same hayfever preparations. I just told them to throw the packaging away with Jacob's name on it and just administer the eye drops - and they wouldn't even do that. I wasted an hour driving to and from school etc and needed about 4 hours to calm down from the anxiety/anger!

    2. Yes H & S needs a big dollop of common sense sometimes!

  2. I have absolutely no patience and waiting in lines drives me crazy. I try to avoid. I also will not go to the doctor until I am nearly dead. My kids give me heck for that. I would be so annoyed with the school secretary I would probably just go ahead and get on the train!! Loved your writing today!! And everyday!!

    1. Thanks, Paula:) I try to avoid queues if I can. If I see a long queue in a shop I will just leave unless I need to get something urgently.

  3. Your writing always delights me, but today I'm delighted not to have been in any queues as well. I needed to sit down and have a chocolate just reading about yours.

    1. Welcome to my blog, Deborah and thank you for the comment. Queue behaviour is a very british thing but if possible I avoid at all costs. Life is too short!


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