It is time to praise queues and queuing. Nations like Russia or France organise grand parades of weaponry to celebrate their national feasts, but maybe the fading UK could celebrate its own being in one phenomenon which unites all four of the British nations: respect for the humble queue.
Admittedly, it would tax the most creative imagination to find some means of organising a celebration of the queue in Pall Mall or Princes Street to compete with a military parade on the Champs Elysées, but this platinum year is the ideal time to recognise the habit of queuing as Britain's great contribution to civilisation and democracy.
In this most hierarchical, class-ridden of all societies, the queue is a statement that all human beings, irrespective of gender, class or colour, are equal under the overcoat. A queue imposes an equality of chance arrival which overrides privileges of rank, wealth or birth. No other word than queue should be admitted. The Americans stand in line, but their word carries a sense of military discipline imposed by blustering officers requiring their charges to stand up straight, silently and obediently, waiting for orders. That's not the essence of the real British queue.
By some mysterious alchemy, each queue assumes a personality of its own, and no doubt some sociologist will be studying this process. I was drawn to realise the inner value of the queue in Glasgow last Saturday, en route for a vaccination. At one bus stop, a scurrilous fellow of plainly anarchist inclinations tried to jump on the bus ahead of his turn, but he was jeered and hauled off by the united force of the queuers.
A queue of law-abiding citizens merges to form a spontaneous personality which rejects all such conduct and to impose its own sanctions. The level of contempt reserved for the queue-jumper as an anti-democratic miscreant, a threat to British culture and society, is deep.
The British habit of queueing has long been a source of bafflement or even derision to our continental neighbours. I have heard comedy routines on foreign TV programmes on the queue, taken as a typical aspect of incomprehensible British ways, or even of a British submissiveness of character. It is a dastardly misjudgement.
An Italian or French pseudo-queue masks anarchy. A group of people at a bus stop in Rome are a bunch of jostlers waiting for the opportunity to push forward ahead of any laggardly, infirm, hesitant or simply courteous fellows. Britannia may no longer rule the waves, but let us celebrate conduct on land.
If you would like to contribute to the Cafe, please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org