YOU may not think it to look at
me, but I once met Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, better known to the lumpen
masses and running dogs of reaction as Lenin, the Russian revolutionary
leader and first head of state of the Soviet Union.
foreign-type chappie he was, high cheek-bones, touch of the Tartar-brush,
suggestion of the Slav, bit Bolshie-looking but with well-trimmed
bourgeois beard, dressed in an ill-fitting suit, probably inefficiently
tinkered with in some Five Year Tailoring Plan, inscrutable half-smile on
his conspiratorial features and displaying a peculiar, waxy complexion;
not surprising, perhaps, since, when I saw him - in 1974 - he had been
dead for 50 years.
To see the big daddy of the land, so dear to every
toiler, tidily embalmed and looking almost gold-leafed, reclining in his
glass case in an enclave in Moscow’s Kremlin, I had joined a queue so long
it resembled a dark ages’ race migration. In front, behind, and alongside
were citizens of Soviet republics, Nordic faces mingling with those from
Siberia and Samarkand, Lapps and Letts, Uzbeks, Tadzhiks as well as those
hinting at Sinbad the sailor and Eskimo Nell.
There were upstanding,
un-wearied queuers resembling passionate pilgrims and others who sagged
like badly-stuffed sandbags. I took the four-hour wait in my stride
because I was a veteran queuer; one who had stood, in Edinburgh’s vertical
winds and horizontal rain, for stately municipal argosies, dipping through
the main streets with cargoes of putty-scented tradesmen,
fish-supper-eaters, fag-and-pipe puffers and holders of carry-out trays.
Norwich Union Healthcare survey concludes that Britons are obsessed with
queuing and spend 1.3 billion hours a year waiting, for instance, in
shops, doctors’ surgeries, at airports, in banks or to visit a public
According to the Hungarian-born writer, George
Mikes, "an Englishman, even when alone, forms an orderly queue of one."
Substitute "Briton" and a national characteristic is revealed indicating
order, fair dealing and a tendency for communal bonding.
When I used
to wait at a North Bridge, Edinburgh, bus stop to be conveyed to
Newington’s leafy lanes and traditional Chinese restaurants, I met an
interesting class of queuers - disillusioned anarchists, born-again
bolsheviks, journalists, beggarmen and thieves.
man’s place in an expanding or contracting universe, the influence of the
Gothic novel on the Communist Mani-festo of 1848 and also prospects for
Hibs of Midlothian and Edinburgh Rangers were on our wind-chapped lips.
a shrewd citizen, badly in need of a shave and trailing a wake of flies,
approached me and said: "If there were more people like you, there would
be no class struggle." That meant something, though what, I never worked
I have queued for cinema seats during nights of meteorological turbulence,
when the moon seemed a ghostly galleon tossing on a sea of flying scud,
when that demonic duo, Fracula and Drankenstein were ghastly screen
flickers, the uniformed. bemedalled commissionaires barked at queuers as
if addressing ill-disciplined recruits and, worse, the buskers were
abroad, emitting sounds like steam escaping from a pipe or sealions with
I have been queue-cumbered at supermarkets’
vegetable stalls and stood in long lines while shoppers, at check-out
points, unloaded enough provender to keep a garrison in health and
strength for three months, waited in frustrating airport queues, moving
spasmodically like a sick snake, and when asked to show our boarding
passes, found that either my wife or myself had mislaid them and had to
leave the queue, frantically carry out a search and wearily join the end
of the line again.
In banks and post offices, I often find myself
immediately behind someone who has complicated transactions to be carried
out involving filling-up documents, phone calls and discussions with other
staff while I wait, fretting, to buy one second-class stamp.
queuers will be familiar with the following un-canny phenomena: the other
queue moves faster. If you change queues, the one you have left will start
to move faster than the one you are in. The longer you wait, the greater
the likelihood that you are in the wrong queue.
Lenin didn’t stand for much in the power line-up. While one-third of
Britons interviewed have admitted queue-jumping, I believe the bulk of the
waiting millions, refusing to become bolshie, would say: "Get thee behind
me, Satan. There’s a queue here."