Column: July 27, 2011

IF I AM good at one thing – and even then I am probably overstating matters – then it is queuing. It rarely comes up in an interview situation, which is why I reluctantly stopped putting it on my CV, but I am proud of my ability to line up and wait.

I have a queuing stance – weight on one foot, alternating as required. I even have a queuing face, which I have noted when waiting in shops which have a mirror behind the counter. It is a cross between “determined” and “bored”, which is a difficult look to carry off.

My powers of queuing are best in evidence when I am next in line to use a cash machine. I stand the correct distance away from the person at the machine, so I am unable to see his or her PIN code when it is typed in, but not so far away that I would need a sit-down during my journey to the machine.

Why I do this, I do not know. There is no risk to the person in front from my seeing his or her PIN code. I am not a criminal. I wouldn’t even know where to start when planning a mugging. I would be all self-conscious, and still be clearing my throat before saying, “Stick ’em up!” despite my intended target having sauntered halfway down the street.

Even if I were bundled into a Transit van by a pair of burly toughs and threatened with torture unless I revealed the PIN code of the person in front, whose card the robbers had stolen, my terrible, if quirky, memory would fail me and I would volunteer Victor Meldrew’s telephone number “4291.”

Anyway, the point is, I am good at queuing. But this makes me intolerant of those who are bad at queuing… like the man who was in front of me in the cash machine queue this week.

Picture the scene. There was a man at the machine, another man behind him, and then me. And then there were some other people, but they are not relevant to the story, so you can crop them out.

I was staring at the man in front of me and thinking, “This man is rubbish at queuing. He is much too far away from the man at the machine. Move forward, you idiot.”

But he did not move forward. He stayed resolutely TOO FAR AWAY from the machine. Perhaps he was a reformed criminal, fighting off temptation. It did not matter. At the time, I hated him and his rubbish queuing.

And then it happened. The thing I had feared. A woman walking along the street, texting and not paying attention, stood behind the man at the machine.

Technically, she was jumping the queue in front of me. But I did not mind, because I was right, and it was Rubbishy McQueuer who had to deal with the situation. 

It was not pretty, and Texting Woman gave as well as she was given, but it was an enjoyable spectacle and, I hope, has provided him with a blueprint for his future conduct.
It was some sort of karmic payment for the experience I had a couple of weeks ago. In the film Unbreakable, Samuel L Jackson, whose character has extremely brittle bones, posits that there must be a man who is invulnerable to injury to offset his own weakness.
In a shop I met my cosmic opposite.

I queued patiently behind him for five minutes, gallingly watching others who had arrived after me be served before me, before he was approached by a woman walking away from the till with her purchases and they left together.

It was only then I saw the little sign in front of which he had been standing: “Queue other end.”

This was the anti-me – a man who was so bad at queuing that he appeared to be queuing when he was not.

My only hope is that he was so discomfited by the peculiar man who stood behind him for five full minutes, staring down his neck, that he is still having bad dreams about him.

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