Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Impatient queuing

What a strange species we are, very accepting, since time began, in that strangest of sciences: queue strategy. Well, we like to think of ourselves as patient in this matter that it.

I popped in, as is my frequent practice, to the Beach House coffee shop today, and was lucky enough to bag a table immediately, the only one available as it happened. As I sat there, content with my frothy cappuccino and the dry humour contained within the pages of Stephen Fry's latest literary offering, The Fry Chronicles, I observed the new arrivals to the coffee shop.

Not as fortunate in their timing as myself, they stood and waited in the hope that a table would become free sometime soon. Though most waiting were in couples, not a word was spoken between them as they stared at the occupants of each table, surveying the sweet comestibles and caffeine-rich drinks in their possession, trying to estimate how long it would be before they would leave.

I could almost hear the contempt in their heads as they stared at the single people, myself and my hardback book included, having the audacity to occupy a four-person table for themselves. Not that they would ever think of sharing, such is the British way.

Then, quite unexpectedly, some customers they had thought would not leave for an age, suddenly start pulling on their coats. A certain level of anxiety now kicks in. Could they possibly take longer to button up their coat, pull on their gloves and collect their belongings?! Don't they know that these people have been waiting almost three minutes?! Then there's a rush, rugby scrum-like, to get to the table, even before the previous customers have completely left, just in case someone should try to beat them to it.

And all this time not a word spoken between them.

So now they have their table and await the attentions of the circulating waitress. Has she noticed them? Weren't they first before the couple she is now serving? All this time, as they wait to place their order, they remain silent. Conversation, removal of coats and general relaxation cannot begin until the order is placed. It's as if there is a time limit, beyond which they would have to leave. That somehow the waitress holds a magic code that enables them to engage in conversation.

At last, the agony is over and the waitress takes their order with a beaming smile. Now the coats can be removed while passing comment on the attitude of their waitress and the lifetime it has taken to be served, before turning their attention to more important matters such as the weather and observing smugly some new arrivals having to wait for a table.

One of the great comedians of our time, Eddie Izzard, once delivered a wonderful comic scene of supermarket queuing strategy: The telltale sign of a cashier arriving at a till and placing money inside. The gold at the end of the rainbow signifying the possible creation of "the new queue". Trying not to draw attention to himself, or the new about-to-open till, Izzard would begin to position himself so that once the cashier opened for business he could athletically leap into first position from the stagnant queue he was presently in.

And so we spend our days, queuing for the bank teller, the post office counter, the supermarket cashier, airport check-in, and not forgetting our friendly waitress.

Patience people, patience.

1 comment:

Miss Understanding said...

Maybe its just me, but I often ask the single person at the four person table if they don't mind sharing. Its amazing the lovely people you can meet. Mind you I always carry out an observational assessment ie 1) Are they muttering angrily to themselves? 2) Are they dressed inappropriately or in an odd way(eg sandals in wet weather) 3) Do they look like they smell? 4) Are they reading religious material? If the answer to any of these is yes then I wait for a free table!