Some things are worth queuing for

 In In Focus, News

The British are famous for five national characteristics: patience, stoicism (the classic stiff upper lip), diplomacy (no one can say ‘get lost!’ quite so sweetly as the British), common sense, and queuing.

The last of  these great British virtues came into play at the commemorations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee held at the British ambassador’s residence in Lisbon on Wednesday evening.
It had been decided that guests would not enter the front door of the residence and greet the ambassador in the hallway, but instead be channelled straight to the garden for the traditional garden party. This usually coincides with Her Majesty’s Official Birthday on the second Saturday in June, but this year took place to coincide with the Jubilee celebrations which began on Thursday and will continue today and throughout the weekend.
Walking up the road towards the embassy a long queue could be seen hugging the high pink walls of the residence and making very slow progress towards the main entrance for the usual security checks. It was noticeably longer than usual, not surprising really given the extra special nature of this year’s garden party.
Stopping to chat to leading lights in the British Chamber of Commerce and the Royal British Club, I instinctively said, “Well, I can’t barge in the queue, it wouldn’t be right”, and continued on, following the curve of the wall to the end of the road and down a side street where it trailed off into the distance.
I overheard one or two staff from an overseas embassy complaining about the slowness of the queue and reflected for a moment on how very British it is to queue. We are a nation of queuers. We don’t queue dodge, it simply isn’t the done thing. We don’t push in, or try to jump the queue at the cinema, or a concert like the Portuguese often do when they see friends already in the line (I am guilty of this in Portugal, I have to confess).
Instead, we bear the burden of patiently waiting in the queue, in a orderly line, without complaining or moaning. It’s what we do. My grandmother patiently queued outside the butcher’s in Chippenham waiting for their rations of bacon in World War II. I patiently queued for one hour and a half around two blocks to see Star Wars in 1977 as a child, and I queued again around the façade of Hamley’s toy store in the December cold and rain for over an hour to ensure my nephews got their ‘rationed’ Teletubbies (due to crazy demand only two per person were allowed) on Christmas Day in 1996. And, when the Queen eventually dies, as she must, I will queue patiently for hours, come rain or shine, along with a million other souls, to file pass the catafalque in Westminster Hall and will happily pay British Airways over €200 to fly to London to do so.
Napoleon said we were a nation of shopkeepers. Well, we are also a nation of queuers, and when the Duke of Wellington who helped defeat him died in 1852, and before his funeral cortege passed through London’s streets on the 18 November, 250,000 people had silently and respectively queued for a lavish lying-in state at the Royal Military Hospital, Chelsea, for four days from 13 November.
Capitalist or Socialist, Monarchist or Republican, Conservative or Tory, Brexiteer or Remainer, we all queue. As a nation it’s what we do.
And were the 30 or so minutes queuing worth the while? They were, although that really isn’t the point.
The garden looked lovely decked out with strings of Union Jacks, a brass band was playing rousing jolly tunes, a beautiful white tiered wedding-style cake decorated with white roses drew much admiration, and a photo collage of various key moments throughout the Queen’s 70-year reign — including her two visits to Portugal in 1957 (the black Rolls Royce which ferried her around Lisbon was parked in the garden) and in 1985 – attracted attention too.
There was the traditional toast and a few words from Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Portugal, Chris Sainty on the remarkable qualities of the Queen who at age 96, and 70 years on the throne, is now the second longest serving monarch ever to have reigned bar Louis XIV but only by one year.
The ambassador remarked on the “many extraordinary and dramatic International events” that have accompanied that long reign, but she has been a source of “comfort, inspiration, wisdom, leadership, dedication and constancy” for the British, the peoples of the Commonwealth and many other countries around the world.
Chris Sainty highlighted the past two difficult years of the pandemic (the last Queen’s Birthday party had been held in 2019 at the Residence) which because of Covid-19 brought “indescribable pain and sadness” for countless people around the world, and which had been a “burden on our health services and weakened our societies” and even the Old Alliance between Portugal and England was “under strain” because of Covid restrictions. (Portuguese hoteliers moaning in 2020 about the UK government’s strict ‘red list’ Covid travel rules).
The ambassador also mentioned the constant confrontations of new challenges such as the “unprovoked attack by Russia against Ukraine which brought “incalculable suffering”, and which demanded an unprecedented response, and the many measures which have been taken and will be taken to ensure “Putin’s aggression fails”.
But the surprise of the evening, after a specially recorded address from the Portuguese President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa in which he extolled the virtues of the Queen, and fondly recalled being taken down to a crowded Terreiro do Paço as a boy of eight, Union Jack in hand, to see the Queen and Prince Phillip be escorted from the Royal Yacht Britannia to a reception committee of Portuguese government ministers for the State Visit to Portugal in 1957, was his unexpected personal appearance 30 minutes later.
The President spoke of meeting her in London and her unique experience of having met “so many heads of state all over the world, of having lived through World War II, the post-war construction period, and so many decades of history of the Word, Europe and the Commonwealth”.
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa spoke of “our long-lasting and unbreakable friendship” a “historic moment” and through such “difficult periods of our common history” which shows the qualities of Her Majesty: strength, cleverness, stability, constancy, vision of the world, experience and “which is why on behalf of the Portuguese people we congratulate you very, very warmly.”
It was a fitting tribute on a lovely summer’s evening to a monarch who most people in attendance cannot surely have remembered not ever being on the throne. And when the times comes, which it surely will soon, the world will mourn the loss of a regal symbol of the post-war era which already is sinking like the setting sun, as we face a more unsettled, uncertain and less constant future for humanity. Ave Regina!