Based on conversations and events that took place whilst waiting in the queue to see the Queen lying in state during September 2022
Fifteen minutes before the start of the queue
“Excuse me” asked Pete frantically looking down at the map on his phone, failing to catch the attention of his Uber driver. He tried again but this time with more gusto.
“Excuse ME?” The Uber driver took out the wireless headphone from his left ear with a weary sigh of a man not enjoying the 5am pick up.
“I’m looking at the map and it looks like the start of the queue has changed. Can I change my destination?” pleaded Pete hoping this was an option. The driver looked utterly confused.
“I have no idea what you just said, mate!”
It was Pete’s turn to sigh now. He was slowly realising it would take two attempts to get anywhere with this guy.
“So… y’know lots of people are queuing to see the Queen’s coffin?”
“Errr yeah?” said the Uber driver only half getting the gist this time.
“Well it looks like the start of the queue has changed so can you go left here and head for Tower Bridge?”
The driver sighed even heavier this time and shook his head.
“Sorry mate I can’t do that and there’s nowhere to stop round here.”
Pete looked into his driver’s eyes and could smell bullshit a mile off. Before he could change his mind, he opened the car door.
“Fine! I’ll get out here then. Cheers!” Pete petulantly stated to his driver with his body halfway out.
Pete didn’t hear the Uber guy’s response as he was already across the road and jogging towards his revised destination.
The start of the queue
“Excuse me? Where do you get wristbands?” asked Pete sounding slightly out of breath. He wasn’t used to running at this time of the morning. In fact, he wasn’t used to running at any time of the day.
“Just down there, buddy. Good luck!” said the volunteer noticing how wheezy Pete was already when he hadn’t even joined the queue yet.
Pete power walked past another 50 people darting in and out of the human obstacles like he was going for gold at Human Crufts. Five minutes later Pete had a gold wristband on his arm and reached a wall of humans signalling the official start of the queue. Tower Bridge, glowing purple in the early morning night sky looked glorious. A fitting tribute to Her Majesty and an unforgettable start to Pete’s journey.
Whilst he looked down the Thames, enjoying being so close to all these wonderful sights from his childhood, a number of unfamiliar voices lit up around him.
“There we go, Mum. No turning back now. Let the queue begin!”
“Oh Lee, me legs are already hurtin’.”
“Keep moving your plates of meat and you’ll be fine.”
Pete smiled to himself as he realised these were his queue buddies for the next few hours. He turned round to say hello.
“It should warm up once the sun comes up so hopefully that will help. I’m Pete by the way.”
Lee and his Mum shook Pete’s hand.
“I’m Lee and this is my Mum. We got up at 3am and came down on a train from Bedford and here we are!”
Before Pete could respond, another new voice in front of him responded to Lee.
“Not too far then. I’ve come down from Northampton, representing my family who think I’m crazy doing this. A 45-year-old woman with a dodgy hip walking and standing for hours. Sorry, I’m Peggy.”
Pete, Lee, Lee’s Mum and Peggy all said hello to each other as they gently strolled in line with the rest of this long queue which stretched miles down the river towards Westminster. For minutes no further words were exchanged as they all got used to their surroundings, soaking up the enormity of this experience. Lee, full of naïve energy broke the silence.
“I wonder if Prince Charles, sorry King Charles is up yet? God! It’s gonna take a while getting used to that.”
“I know! All our lives he’s been the Prince so it’s only natural your brain won’t adjust instantly,” said Peggy, as she tried to keep pace with the queue which was flowing down the river like a regal conga line.
“I think even Charles would understand that. I don’t think I’ll sing “God Save The King” right for a while. I’ll be singing Queen for a bit,” said Lee’s Mum, who giggled with her queue buddies.
“So… how long do we think this will take? Mum, you first.” Lee lightly poked the side of his Mum’s tummy.
“Well… I’m hoping about four hours as that’s me limit.”
“Four hours!? It would take that if there wasn’t a queue?” said Lee looking at his Mum like she had just farted. Pete went next.
“The YouTube tracker said 11 hours so I’ll go with that.”
Everyone nodded as Peggy interjected.
“In that case I’ll say nine hours as I’m sure that tracker is worst case scenario.”
Lee’s eyes looked panicked as he attempted to control his breathing.
“Well I hope you’re all wrong. I maybe 21 and half all your ages but I looked at the tracker yesterday and it said it was only six hours from this point so I’ll go with that. Anyway, let’s just enjoy the experience. This’ll never happen again!”
They all silently nodded, quietly hoping Lee’s Mum was right, as they continued to stroll in line with the rest of the thousands of people from all walks of life winding all along this stretch of the Thames.
Eleven hours in the queue
“Not long now, Lee!” said Peggy trying to cheer up her fellow queue buddy.
“I don’t believe you anymore! You’ve been saying that for shitting hours! My feet are falling off, you said once we reach the zig zag in the gardens it would be an hour. We’ve been zigging and zagging for nearly three bloody hours. I deserve a medal for this!” said Lee with a level of exasperation he had never experienced before. Not even that time he had to wait an hour for a pizza from Just Eat one time. Pete, spotted a joke and took a risk.
“The king should give you a QBE. Queuer of the British Empire.”
Lee’s grumpy face froze for a second before erupting into a huge smile and raucous laugh. His Mum, Peggy and Pete all joined in, relieved the moaning of this young guy had stopped for a moment. The other zig zaggers around them wondered what was going on. Pete continued with something he’d been thinking about for a while as they zigged before further zagging.
“It’s funny. All yesterday on the news every person they interviewed in the queue were so happy and yet the reality for us has been quite different. I feel like they should interview Lee before we go in.”
Lee smiled before responding.
“Haha! Yeah and as soon as the cameras roll they ask me ‘How has the experience been?’ and I’ll lie my ass off and say ‘Yeah loved it!’ even though my feet are bloody numb.”
“Weird you wore those shoes because you wanted to be comfy.”
“Mum, I know but these shoes are shit! They don’t work. There’s no bounce to ‘em. I’m burning them as soon as we get home.” Lee pointed towards his shit expensive gold laced shoes throughout his latest rant. Pete and Peggy kept smirking at each other thoroughly enjoying the multiple novels worth of moaning they’d heard from this guy today. Lee launched into another fresh rant without catching his breath.
“I heard someone say the guards change every 20 minutes?! Lazy bastards. They could do an hour each and speed this bloody queue up! We’d have been in there by now if they just stood up for a bit longer. Madness!”
Pete took another look down the zig zag, they really were nearly there.
“Speed up everyone, I think this is it.”
This group of strangers dug deep to make one last dash towards Westminster Hall. Approaching the end of the zig zag they came to what appeared to be one final winding path towards the door leading to their destination. This gave Lee enough time for one last thought.
“Guys, I know I’ve moaned a bit today but I’m 21 years old so got a lot of life to live. Hopefully my feet will fully recover and spring to life again soon. But at least you met a load of nutters like me in the line to cheer you up.”
Pete, Peggy, Lee and his Mum all nodded in silence, reminiscing on the last 11 hours and what lay ahead in a few short moments. Reaching the airport security tent for one final check, Pete added one final remark to his queue buddies.
“And if you think about it that’s what the Queen mostly did for 70 years – meeting nutters in a line. So in many ways this last 11 hours has given us a taste of what the life of this great monarch was like.”
Chuckling to each other everyone took off coats, jewellery, belts and bags to allow them entry into the hall. Lee’s Mum forgot about the phone in her pocket delaying the group but, rather than go on without them, Pete and Peggy waited for them. They started the day together so it was important to end it as one. Words were no longer necessary as they walked slowly down the side of the hall towards the entrance. Just glances at each other trying to express that it was finally going to happen. No more delays, queues, zig zags, bridges to cross or false dawns. The time had come.
As they all made their way up the carpeted steps, lugging their broken bodies slowly upwards it all dawned on them the enormity of the occasion. This building was their final destination and by the time they reached the top of the stairs all of their aches, pains, grumbles and grievances were gone, replaced by the emotion and grief that brought them all to the queue in the first place. They may have been from very different backgrounds but the one thing they shared was the love of the Queen and all she represented. Staring down at her coffin, preparing to head down into the main hall, Pete’s body went numb in disbelief at where he was standing, what he had achieved and what he was about to do. He quickly composed himself, closed his eyes, took a deep breath and descended these final set of steps to honour Her Majesty, say thank you and goodbye to this great woman.