Middleagedmum.com: the art of queuing

It wasn’t till I lived in London that I realised the importance of of queuing. Having previously lived in small towns or cities, queuing didn’t feature heavily in my daily life. But in London it is a necessary evil that starts from the moment you leave the house.

If you take the tube to work the first queue of the day is the Oyster card top up queue. This queue can cause almost instant stress as it requires lightening efficiency and you must be 100% engaged in the task. It isn’t possible to text, or be on the phone to your children telling them where their clean socks are, as you must focus and be as fast as is humanly possible. There are very important busy people behind you, hopping from foot to foot and huffing and puffing, as they are in a hurry to get to work and need to get onto to the tube – right now!

If you take the bus to work you are likely to encounter the random, not quite a queue Bus queue. This has no particular order, which is confusing if you are from the provinces or another country where queuing for buses is de rigueur. I once had an older woman who was clearly not from London ask me, ‘what is the etiquette here with the queue’, to which I replied’ it’s everyman for himself, I’m afraid’. That is unless you are old, disabled or have a buggy.

I have to admit I am not as sympathetic as I should be with the yummy mummy fraternity.  Back in the days of the good old Route-master, we mums were lucky if we could actually get on the bus, baby under one arm, shopping and toddler on the other, trying to stuff the fold up McClaren into the ridiculously small luggage space.  These days the YM’s swan on on in their in skinny jeans, Converse and Barbour’s, pushing their babies like they own the standing area. Well excuse me but some of us are trying to get to work here…….

However you travelled to work the next queue you will join is the coffee queue. The success of this depends entirely on the speed and efficiency of the staff. The important people in the Oyster card queue have just endured a nose to tail experience on the central line and need a coffee and they need it fast. Their coffee needs to be made quicker than you can say half-skinny half-1 percent extra hot macchiato with whipped cream or there will be big trouble. It is also wise not to show any hesitation or indecision when ordering!

Give it an hour and the coffee shop queue will take on a completely different dynamic, as the important masters of the universe will be firmly ensconced in their glass fronted office buildings and replaced with the all together more laid back and casual, freelance brigade. Macbook Air and iPhone at the ready, the coffee queue relaxes as they attempt to chat to the barista and settle in for a day of creative meetings and flat whites.

There will hopefully be no more queues until lunch time when its time for the, yes you’ve guessed it, the sandwich queue. The queue experience here will very much depend on your lunch of choice. Choose a specialty sandwich shop such Pret or Eat and everything is hunky dory until it comes to where to join the queue. There will be a bank of (fake) smiley assistants ‘ready to take your order’ and bid you a good day, but no-one has worked out the queuing system, causing everyone to create one single giant queue which at busy times can snake in an alarming way around the shop, causing much confusion. My inclination is to try and start several smaller queues in front of each till operator. This makes perfect sense to me, but it never seems to make sense to anyone else, causing even more confusion and much shouting. ‘Excuse me, there’s a queue you know’.

Lunch from M & S also requires skill as you may choose to join the self service check out queue. This is a speedy affair, requiring deft transaction skills in order to avoid the dreaded “unexpected item in the bagging area” which clearly exposes you as a tourist or an incompetent, and no-one wants that now do they!

Having successfully negotiated the sandwich queue, one may have to take care of some personal admin and might have to visit the Post Office or the cash point queue. Unless you have at least an hour and a half to spare and have lost the will to live, there is absolutely no point in attempting to visit any post office anywhere in London at lunch time, for any reason. Why would you? If for some reason you do, you may wish to fantasise that you are in the former Soviet Union in the 1930’s or London during the Blitz, as the general mood and pace will be similar, except no-one will speak – ever.

I am almost banned from my local PO as I complain every single time I visit and continually ask where all the staff are? ‘At lunch’ is the answer most likely to set me off on a middleaged tirade, causing me to try and engage the rest of the queue in some sort of mutinous uprising. Needless to say, everyone shuffles about a bit and pretends to text!! If my distant family are reading – this is why I don’t send things on time – ever!

The cash point queue is another area where clear guidelines need to be established as to where one should stand. Snaking into the middle of the pavement, or standing on the opposite side of the pavement just doesn’t work, as it can mean two different queues form, causing untold confusion. Again I feel it’s my civil duty to try to change the formation of the cash point queue if I feel its not up to scratch – this doesnt usually go down too well, but you cant say I don’t at least try to bring order to the streets of London!

Queues are pretty much over for the day, unless you are going out for the evening, when you may end up joining a getting into a bar queue, which I cannot comment on, as I refuse to join them – don’t get me started. If I can’t walk in, sit down and order a drink within five minutes, I am not going in – thankyouverymuchindeedy!

I do however from time to time have to join an event queue, or rather I don’t. These are usually press or blogger events, requiring a guest list and queue. The hipper and younger the attendees at the event, the better for me, I simply swan to the front of the queue looking as Advanced Style as I possibly can, causing the young PR girl on the door to think that at my age I must be someone important and wave me in. It also works to go straight to the front and greet the PR girl as a long lost friend, ‘hi, how are you, I haven’t seen you in ages’, always works. She will be far too well brought up and too good a PR to admit she doesn’t have a clue who I am, air kiss me and stand aside to let me in.

At the end of the day there is really only one sure way to avoid any further queues and ensure a stress free journey home – hail a cab!


  • Becky says:

    or – stay at home and knit all day !!! It works for me – I never queue for anything ever, well apart from to get into the school cark park, to pay for the food shopping, to get into the Shatti parking area – mmmmm now you’ve got me thinking !!!!

  • Jane says:

    Its because we do it without thinking Becky – there needs to be more militancy involved. Just say NO to queues!

  • Jude says:

    I’m totally with you on this Jane – it’s possibly my biggest frustration of London living (apart from people who cough without putting hand to mouth). Bus queues especially. Why can’t the first person to arrive start the queue in the proper place, which is at the FRONT of the stop? It’s no good being first to arrive only to loiter around the middle of the bus shelter, because if I arrive after them I politely stand behind them, only to see someone else arrive later and stand RIGHT in front of everyone, where the gap in the ‘queue’ is! Queue properly people.
    And while I’m thinking of public transport, how about kids old enough to stand and grip a hand rail not offering their seat to the less able. I’ve had a stand-off with a beligerent (approx) 10 yr old who REFUSED when I asked him to stand for a heavily pregnant woman getting on the tube. Just before I got up to offer my seat I whispered to him “You selfish little boy, I hope you don’t get a girlfriend.”

  • Jude says:

    Sorry, forgot to add – you can avoid the Oyster queue by signing onto the TfL website for automatic uploads. You can select an amount to be automatically credited to your Oyster card each time it gets below a certain level, so you never need to queue again!!

  • Jane says:

    thanks Jude for that TFL info – who knew?

    Bet you terrified that boy!! Well done J x

  • steffi says:

    My fave is the post office queue. Just silence except for an inexplicable female voice (middleagedmum’s obvs) asking where all the staff is. Love it. Am practically crying with laughter and desperation as I fully recognise an sympathise with the plight or the memory thereof as I no longer live in the UK but in a land far far removed from the art of queueing. I am a frustrated queue-er and have to be forcefully held back by my husband or given at least one valium before entering any kind of queueing situation here in Ticino or especially in Italy. Have you EVER experienced an Italian airport or a tried to queue in a coffee bar in Milan? *laughs hysterically*

  • Jane says:

    Dont even go there with European queues Steph!! Jx

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