YOU simply can’t understand what it’s like inside the hall, one of the successful participants told me.
Everything, she said, was brighter than you could ever think around the Queen’s lying-in-state in Westminster Hall, the yellow of the Standard, the gold of the orb and sceptre.
I was happy enough not to share first hand in the knowledge, given that to possess such knowing required more waiting than I have to give.
There were many things anthropomorphised during the nation’s official mourning period. A bear called Paddington, King Charles’s fountain pen and, most prominent of all, the Queue.
Around Westminster there was chatter of it. As I ducked and weaved through crowds gathering to stake a spot on the pavements along the Queen’s funeral cortege route, I overheard a man saying to his companion, “Is this The Queue? Where is The Queue? I must see it!”
I wanted to see it too. I was hopeful of joining it, if I could find the end of it. On Monday night I had gone in search of it, thinking that the Queue to file past Her Majesty’s coffin might be liveliest at midnight, as the most interesting things are.
There was a website giving real time updates on the end of the Queue but I decided I might wing it, wandering in the vicinity of the last known end with hopes of stumbling across it.
I did not stumble across it so thought to ask one of the great many policemen posed around.
An officer drafted in from Lancashire Constabulary – who referred to his peers as “bobbies”, which is not a phrase I’ve ever heard uttered straightfaced and which added to the strange out of body sense of everything – looked tickled at my small town ways when I pointed to a long crowd and asked if it was the Queue.
“This is just the normal amount of people who’ve come to London,” he said, before funnelling me into a one way system, “past those bobbies there.”
The Queue was examined as a peculiarly British thing. Queueing correctly is a British trait, a sense of fairness in waiting your turn introduced in childhood and reinforced from then on in.
Queuing, as most things, has its dark history: to make Brits more compliant during Second World War rationing, to queue was heavily promoted as a virtue.
Certainly London’s Queue exemplified the best of waiting spirit. It was jovial, collegiate and patient – even when estimated wait times reached a plump 19 hours. Or, rather, the people in it were.
Other nations queue just as well as Britain but Britain has taken on queueing as a point of national pride, a virtue. When Nicola Sturgeon said recently that she felt both Scottish and British, she could easily have meant that she liked to embody the spirit of the Queue.
Queuers said they were content to wait as long as it took to see the Queen inside Westminster Hall but I suspect they were as much motivated by the seductive nature of the Queue as by its end reward. Once you were in, it was hard to leave.
Observers looked for meaning in the queue. Perhaps the queue’s ultimate meaning was that it meant nothing at all.
When I finally found the Queue, near the London Eye, I found it unbearable as too literal a metaphor. Are we not all in a queue leading to a coffin? Is not the Queue life?
In which case, its message is that we should try at all costs to carpe diem the heck out of it.
Which leads to thoughts on exactly how to do that. Post-pandemic, so much discussion has been about work-life balance and the phrase “quiet quitting” is having a moment in the sun.
What is it? Well, it’s the concept of doing your job … but just doing your job and not all the added extra, above and beyond bits of your job.
From an employer perspective, it’s the different between engaged and disengaged employees. Those who will go the dreaded extra mile and carry out additional tasks from pure goodwill and those who have one foot out the door.
After the insecurity of the pandemic, people’s stress levels are high and employees are wiped out. Successful careers have long been built on doing extra duties to try to impress the boss and doing emotional labour – bake sales, Friday night drinks – to bond with colleagues.
Covid-19 stretched this to its limit as organisations that furloughed some staff relied on those who were still working to pick up the slack. It meant, on top of the stress and uncertainty in the wider world, doing double duty for little reward.
I was on a flight earlier this year and got chatting to a young Australian guy who had continued to work during the worst of Covid-19 when his colleagues preferred not to do so. As recompense, his firm had given him nine months paid leave to do what he wanted and what he wanted was to travel round the world.
That’s the stuff of dreams, that. For mere mortals, the pandemic has segued into business as usual without time for adequate rest or recuperation.
We also see a firm attitudinal difference from different generations as to what work means. When my Millennial peers and I started out we were told to feel grateful for any opportunities we were given and to graft as hard as we could.
Presenteeism was king and cultivating a career by seeing and being seen to be available 24/7 for work was the way to success.
Zoomers, the younger generation, have no such motivation. They expect to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing, they expect flexibility and they also expect – and this is a negative – a degree of precarity. So, if you might lose your job at any minute, why die of exhaustion trying to keep it?
Quiet quitting, as a solution to burnout and workplace equality, is a nonsense, no matter how many op-ed pieces try to sell it as a beneficial lifestyle choice.
Being able to relax and do the bare minimum at work is a luxury not everyone can afford and an almost unofficial work to rule by some puts others at a disadvantage.
Instead of so-called quiet quitting, I like the idea of prioritising ways of finding pleasure. Remembering to make time to see friends or eat nice food or read a book. The things quickly forgotten when hectic work schedules become overwhelming. Adding a positive, perhaps, rather than focusing on eliminating negatives.
Or, the old maxim of work hard, play hard. That’s the best way to pass the Queue on the long, or short, line to the waiting wooden box.