Day 30

Social Distancing

I bunked the queue in Tesco this morning. By mistake. One of the queues, I should say, as getting in the door of the place is only the beginning of the restrictions on one’s freedom to wander in a semi-lost fashion among the shelves, admiring the freshly-polished array of non-essential goods and picking up purchases you had no intention of buying when you left the house that morning, ie to use a supermarket in the precise manner in which they were carefully designed to part us with our moolah. Apart from the crazy one-way system (are there any sane one-way systems?), when you get to the end of the maze – the south-west corner of the shop, let’s say, to confuse the geographically-challenged among us – and attempt to access one of the tills available there, the resident Hitler holding the Big Pole with the arrow on it to indicate which of the checkout engineers is available for service informs you that you must make your way back through the maze to the north-east corner of the shop as that is where the queue for the tills begins. So off I went back through the one-way system to outside the closed phone shop to find no customers waiting there. I looked down the aisle, spied another employee directing traffic at the end of it, checked that the arrows on the floor were in my favour and walked straight up to him. He addressed me in some near relative of the English language. On the third go, due to my linguistic skills rather than to any improvement in his diction, I managed to pick up the information that he wanted me to spiral my way through the three aisles to our left before coming back to him to seek permission to help secure his job and improve the profitability of his employer by actually buying something. In the second of the three aisles, I eventually came upon the fabled checkout queue, shuffling its way through the birthday cards and CD section, round the corner into the stationery aisle and eventually presenting itself for inspection to language-impaired boy in the now forlorn hope that he would spot Hitler I with her Big Pole [that’s too complicated a WWW II reference; consider a re-write – Ed.] and release us, one by one, for the walk back to the south-west corner to pay for the contents of our shopping baskets.

It is illogical planning like this that brought down an Empire. There was only a total of about eight potential customers in the supermarket at the time, and we could have all easily found a till when we wanted to leave without the whole round-the-world-for-a-shortcut rigmarole. Then, when bored checkout girl had finished her riveting conversation with the victim in front of me (I was standing patiently in the box marked X during this time), she actually interrogated me before she deigned to call me forward. At least she spoke a comprehensible dialect of English.

‘Did you come from the checkout queue or just walk up from the bottom of the aisle?’ she probed, an evil glint in her one good eye.

‘Had you been paying proper attention to your general duties instead of gabbling nonsense to that woman you have just released from commercial captivity, you would know the answer to that yourself,’ I nearly replied.

As I was already behind in my morning schedule because of the go-back-to-the-start-do-not-pass-Go-do-not-collect-£200 regulations, and as life is indubitably already too long, I decided against my preferred answer and merely gave her a dirty look and said, ‘Yes.’ As if bunking a queue would be the last thing I would do. In reality, it is generally the first thing I do.

Speaking of a re-united Ireland [non sequitur of the year award coming up there – Ed.], one of the first actions to be taken to dismantle the Partitionist mindset must obviously be to consign the English disease of queuing into the dustbin of history where it belongs. (The French, God love them, have another habit in mind when they use the phrase ‘the English disease’, but that’s the French for you, a nation that really hates the English with something approaching passion.) It is a completely useless social habit, serves no purpose whatsoever and, more importantly, flouting its conventions really annoys English people, and local Brits as well. Having lived in Spain for a month one memorable Summer, I observed the natives’ behaviour in this regard and have adopted it as my own. At first I found it hard to even identify bus-stops in that country, as there would be no group of homo sapiens lined up strictly parallel to the road behind what might have been a bus-stop sign. There would be a few Spaniards, singly or in pairs, scattered about the general area of the bus-stop, looking to all intents and purposes like they had not the slightest inclination to get on a bus. Then, when the bus arrived, whoever felt like it would approach the open door after – and the after is very important – those already on the bus who wanted to get off at that stop had got off. Then some other Spaniard would decide that maybe he would get on the bus after all and similarly make his way to the foot of the steps of the bus. But there was no strictly defined order for this to happen in: people moved to get on the bus when they felt like it, not according to their time of arrival at the bus-stop. And do you know what? Everyone always got on the bus, so there was no rush and no need to create a stupid system for defining who had first dibs on the bus. And, because Spaniards have some manners and cop-on, they realise the importance of letting people off the bus before attempting to get on it themselves. Compare and contrast with the British system the next time you are at a bus-stop.

‘What did you do during the War, Daddy, to bring down the last vestiges of the British Empire and to re-unite the country?’

‘Well, son, with little thought for my own personal safety, whenever it was possible, I refused to queue. And I implemented down South speed limits in my personal driving at a time when it was neither popular nor profitable. Nor legal.’

‘My hero!’

I bunked that first queue up there by mistake rather than by design, though. Because, while I did notice a few people hanging around near the cash machine outside Tesco, they were so spaced-out [at that hour of the morning? drugs are a terrible blight on society – Ed.] and so far away from the front door that I was walking directly towards that I did not recognise them as a queue until after I had taken the next spot behind the wee man who was waiting on the hotspot to be beckoned forward by yet another of the Hitlers Tesco is currently employing for crowd control. And it was too late then. But I would have tried to bunk it had I known it was a queue. Up the Republic!