11 SEPTEMBER 2004, Page 61

After me

Petronella Wyatt

How thoughtful of David Mills, the Post Office's chief executive, to remind us how much we love queueing. In order to justify the Pinteresque waits at post offices, as one finds oneself behind 20 scowling people, Mr Mills informs us that, actually, we really like it. It gives us all a chance to talk to each other and make new friends.

Of course this shocking piece of affrontery has been met with derision. My friend Max Hastings has indignantly pointed out that, actually, we really hate it. As Max put it, 'I usually find myself behind some elderly lady attempting to claim a Boer war widow's pension, or to find out how many stamps she needs to send a postcard to Outer Mongolia.'

I cannot think of a single sane person who does not feel the same way about the frustration of waiting in line. I feel great empathy for the great British queuer. When I say empathy, however, I am making a confession. I have never done it. I have never stood quietly at the end of a snake of poor suckers winding themselves around the block. That does not mean that I don't go to the post office or the bank, or check in at the economy desk at airports. I do it all the time. I just don't queue. But then I am not English. Or half of me isn't. And that half makes me, in this instance, a complete cad.

It began when I was 12 — yes, the seeds of social delinquency were already sprouting. My parents had decided to take me to Hungary. My mother thought it was time that I visited the land of her birth. The journey was horrendous. We stood at the Hungarian airline's counter waiting for our tickets for what seemed like hours. God knows why anyone wanted to visit Hungary in those days, but the plane was full.

When we landed, there was only one man at passport control. He was a socialist, like all petty bureaucrats. He spent at least ten minutes with each passenger's passport. turning it upside-down, staring at the picture and muttering. After half an hour my mother revolted. She had spotted one booth, hidden away in a corner, with no queue. The booth said 'Diplomats Only'.

You can't go there,' I remonstrated. But, by heaven, she did. And went straight through. By the time my father and I had finished waiting in line, she already had our luggage on a trolley.

It was like the road to Damascus, only the other way round — a lightning bolt suddenly shattered my English conscience. I determined never to queue again. Usually, I have met with success in this endeavour. Thus out of kindness I have decided to impart to long-suffering Spectator readers the secrets of moving to the front of the line.

1) As most people visit banks and post offices during their lunch hour, try to avoid doing the same. Arrive just before opening time, as if it were the Harrods sale. Flatten yourself against the door so that no one can get in ahead of you without attempting GBH.

2) If you have to visit the bank/post office during the lunch break, send an obliging, thoroughly English friend on ahead. Wait 20 minutes, enjoying another cup of coffee or glass of wine. Then march purposefully into the building and, on seeing your friend approaching the front of the line, say loudly, 'Thank God I've found you. I thought you'd need some help filling out those money-transfer forms.' As they move to the window, stick to them like glue, acting as if they were complete morons. At the window, declare, grande voce, Oh, you poor thing, you've forgotten to bring the right information.' Then occupy their position and do whatever you came to do.

3) Judge the number of people walking through the door and then make a running jump designed to project you past them like a scud missile. This one, admittedly, has its hazards, Last week at the post office two men with hefty parcels were attempting to get through the entrance. I performed my usual leap. But I had misjudged their size. The three of us ended up colliding. Go to the back of the queue.

4) Pretend it is a matter of life and death that you queue-jump. Tell the people in front of you in a tearful voice that you have a taxi waiting/your car is illegally parked/ you have to visit a sick relative in hospital. This usually works with men, but not with women. Recently, when I declared that my car was on a double yellow line the lady in front of me retorted. 'Mine's just been towed away.' On another occasion, when I said a cousin of mine was in the Wellington hospital with kidney problems, a woman as thin as a stick declared aggressively, 'My waters are about to break.' Some people are such barefaced liars.

5) Take a small dog with you. The English are always more tolerant of animals than of people. When you enter the post office, clutch the animal to your breast and say desperately, 'There, there, darling, we'll be at the vet soon. Mummy just has to buy two stamps. Please don't vomit again while I wait.' This usually works like a dream. People will feel sorry for you, for your dog, and at the same time dread a pool of sick landing on their shoes. 'Do go on ahead,' they will say. Then make your lengthy transaction involving a special delivery of ten parcels to Cape Town.

If none of the above works, then I don't know what to suggest. Except, use your IQueue — don't join one.