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Queueing as a form of life

Justin Holding goes pre-Christmas shopping

Yesterday (Saturday) I was obliged to go food shopping – not a task I particularly enjoy at this time of year. Earlier in the week I had been to Sainsburys and found myself shocked by the sheer volume of numbers. I am certain this is a feature of growing older – you become gradually less prepared to put up with crowds and become increasingly convinced that the world is over-populated.

It’s why these days I don’t go to sporting events in the flesh. It’s never the sporting spectacle that puts me off, it’s the crush on the concourses, the entry gates, the queues for food, drink and the toilet facilities, the idiots arriving late at their seats laden with fast food and beer and/or just leaving early … and, of course, the pain of getting away afterwards.

But I digress.

Yesterday my first task was to post some letters, well packages containing a little presentation booklet from a third party, that needed to be weighed and then paid for, going by first class post (or what passes for it at this time of year).

postSince locally we don’t have a Post Office anymore, we have to go to a sub-office version situated upstairs at the WH Smiths store. This has five counter stations and it’s always complete pot luck upon your arrival as to whether you are free to choose any of them … or have to wait in a queue.

Yesterday it was the latter. The maze-like line zig-zagging towards Nirvana was eleven strong as I arrived – not quite as bad as it seemed because three ‘waiters’ were family groups of two or three.

It’s just like my regular experiences of queuing at a bank – inevitably, I only ever have one or possibly two transactions I wish to achieve, any and all of which (taken together) would take under two minutes maximum to complete … unlike those in front of me, the bulk of whom seem to be lonely and either want to tell the counter staff their entire life story and/or effect something incredibly complicated (for which they plainly should have booked a special appointment with someone behind the scenes, rather than foul up the best part of the day for the hundreds of us waiting behind).

Readers who may have gained the impression that, by the time I had moved on to Waitrose to buy my food, I was somewhat exercised and spoiling for further let-downs would not be far wrong.

My personal survey reveals that food shopping within three weeks of Christmas Day is chaotic mayhem. Since I approach all shopping as if it is a challenge to be completed as swiftly as possible, I recognised upon entering that I was in for a testing time.

I’m going to gloss over the next twenty-five minutes, spent brilliantly jinking through the crowds in the vegetables and meat sections with my smaller-version of a trolley like David Campese on speed, and take my tale straight to my chosen check-out station, where I found myself fourth in line.

supermarket(2)The good news was that the three next in front of me had small shops to pay for. The bad news was that the chap in the overcoat actually being served as I arrived was in his seventies, somewhat frail and … this was the telling aspect … sporting a look of benign semi-bewilderment upon his face.

I could tell instantly what was about to happen – and it duly unfolded like some horrendous slow-motion car crash. He was having trouble getting his purchases into his shopping bags … and, of course, doing it slowly. The shop assistant asked him a question I couldn’t hear – that took about thirty seconds to register, let alone prompt his over-tired brain cells to crank into life. Ages later he went for his wallet/purse, in a vaguely bumbling, distracted sort of way. If this had been the 1960s and it was all part of a Harry Worth comedy half-hour TV show it might have been hilarious – but here, in this place, on this day – it was tedious in the extreme.

The enormous plus, overall, was that (with great effort on my part) I was out and back home from my expedition in less than 70 minutes. No thanks to the elderly chap in the overcoat, of course.

An hour or so later,  at half-time during a sporting event I was watching on TV, I accidentally pulled myself (metaphorically) up short when I realised that – in about another ten years – that chap in the overcoat will be me.