Tuesday, October 15, 2013


“Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” is the sort of book which is worth reading from its title alone, but what I want to know is does a similar sort of book exist about the formation of queues and what people do when they are in them?

I suppose that I should go on Google and find out if such a thing exists, but that is something for later.  For now, I just want to think about what such a book might contain.

I am sure that there must be academic studies galore on the “Queue and its formation” and I seem to remember (or may have made up) that one person was employed in the Festival of Britain organization to go around and disperse spontaneously formed queues which formed when someone stopped and then someone would stop behind that person assuming that a queue for something or other was forming and they were second in line.  This attitude is perfectly understandable given the scarcity of virtually everything during World War II and the fact that the British had therefore to queue for everything. 

But this begs the important question of what happened in other countries which were just as stretched as the United Kingdom.  What happened to queues there?  France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Russia – there were shortages everywhere.  Rationing was, I think, almost universal.  How did they queue?  Did the queue become a national institution in the way that it did in Britain?

Obviously not if you go to these countries today.  And I understand that Germans are the worst at queuing.

In Spain it may look chaotic, but when you go into a place where there are service counters and a mass of people waiting, you simply ask, “Are you the last?” of someone and they will instantly indicate the person who is just before you and then you admit that you are last and so on.  It works.  But only to get you up to the window.

It would seem simple sense to me that you should get served as quickly as possible.  The correct etiquette is to get what you want and go.  Why?  Because there are people behind you.  Why is it that some people grumble through their waiting time, only to be extravagantly wasteful of the same commodity as soon as they get to their destination?

I am now (almost) resigned to the fact that, whatever queue I join the person or persons in front of me will not have a double digit shopping intelligence quotient.  You can see them relax, visibly, as soon as they are the centre of attention and they engage in astonishingly irrelevant conversation as time ticks away.

Both with supermarkets check-outs (note the last word because some people don’t) and government agencies some people adopt exactly the same attitude.  When it comes to paying, or producing the documents that they have come about, chaos results.  Increasingly desperate searches are made in clothes and bags and my nails dig ever deeper into the palms of my hands.

In my experience, I have always, without exception had to pay for the goods in my supermarket trolley.  Every time.  Payment is therefore to be expected.  Either cash or card – but payment is the way for every visit.  You would not think so but the constant look of surprise when the assistant tells them the cost of their goods, only then do they bethink themselves of a method of payment.  I could quite cheerfully slice their bloody heads off with their long looked for credit card or ram the eventually produced euros down their chuckling throats.  The search for the exact money, by looking along the inside seams of handbags or checking a fifth pocket takes me into another universe of frustration when only a flame-thrower will do.

Today the chief culprit was a man of a certain age in Lidl.  You have to be agile in Lidl because the cashiers are quick and ruthless.  He slowly pushed his trolley through, made no attempt to pack, merely touched each item as if to check its corporality.  His attempt to pay by credit card was a poem of ineptitude which could only have been equaled by Mr. Bean.  Perhaps it was he – how old in Rowan Atkinson nowadays?

Eventually the transaction was complete and the next customer had to circumnavigate the Obstacle and her good were diverted with the windscreen wiper thingie that pushes your stuff into the more inconvenient part of the goods checked tray.  Meanwhile the Obstacle picked up each article and slowly and reverently put it in his trolley.

Then it was my turn, and he still was not done and indeed did not complete until after I had packed my bag and was out of the shop.  If my trolley had been equipped a la Boudicca he would now be laying on the floor a stumpless torso in a pool of blood.

It is a good thing that I am such an equitable person and I merely let adverse circumstances wash over me!

This morning was the first time that I completed the “Morning Pages” exercise in my course which demands that on rising you take pen to paper and write solidly for half and hour.  Which I did.  Load of crud, out of which nothing is salvageable – or at least that is how it appears to me at the moment.  But, tomorrow is another day, and I think that I will go over the instructions of what I am supposed to do again to see if there is anything more that I can do to try and make this a little more productive.

The haiku however continues to go well.  I think.  I am almost at the stage where I have enough raw material to produce a slim volume printed on exquisite paper illustrated with prints produced by the author.  Fond hope.  Though having written those words, there is something strangely tempting about pushing the pretention just that little bit further!

To be fair, I have written more over this last week or so than I have ever done before, and I like to think that such an approach is a bit like taking digital photos – one of them is bound to come out well.  I am a great believer in the law of averages!

And one day I will actually have to read “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” rather than use it in the same way as I have used “War and Peace” – something to talk about in spite of not having read it!
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