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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 63 - Lining up with Lenin

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.

Little 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.

A 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 toilet.

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.

Topics like 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.

Once, 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 out.

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 emphysema.

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.

Practised 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.

I’ll bet 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."

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