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Radio review: Deeply Human: The standing line, Private Passions, and The Moral Maze

09 April 2021


Deeply Human: The standing line (World Service, Easter Day) explored the phenomenon of queuing

Deeply Human: The standing line (World Service, Easter Day) explored the phenomenon of queuing

IT SEEMS appropriate that the nation that has managed one of the most efficient vaccination programmes in the world is also the nation best suited to queuing up for it. The pictures of long, serpentine lines of people patiently waiting to enter community centres and cathedrals are a source of justifiable national pride, and testament to what one commentator on Deeply Human: The standing line (World Service, Easter Day) attributed to “cultural decorum”. It would seem nothing less than a moral transgression to queue-barge in such circumstances.

And what if one were to employ the likes of Robert Samuels, a professional “line-sitter”, to keep your place while you did something more profitable? For a fee, Mr Samuels will queue for book signings, store openings, and Hamilton tickets; and he knows that time is a commodity — so much so that he won’t queue on his own behalf, but will himself employ a stand-in.

It can be a dirty business. Mr Samuels recounted the occasion when the police were called to attend a disturbance in a line for the new brand of Nike trainers. A group had broken a sacred, unwritten protocol by placing chairs to represent themselves while they went off to a restaurant.

Such is the psychological and anthropological richness inherent in the phenomenon of queuing that academics will devote their careers to its study. We met Professor Richard Larson, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aka Dr Queue, who has looked at the line from every angle. And it emerges that the discipline has its lighter side. Take, for example, the case of the Manhattan Savings Bank, which, to pacify its lunchtime line of irritated office workers, employed a concert pianist. It had such success that the problem became one of customers’ lingering in the lobby.

Whatever irritations beset Sister Teresa Keswick, they are not brought on by an excess of people. In her encounter with Michael Berkeley on Private Passions (Radio 3, Easter Day), she did at least acknowledge that the contemplative life had its annoyances; but, in her Carmelite community, there is not the option to verbalise. The different strains of silence formed a thread here: the silence of Quidenham Convent, the silence of the crowd (recalling Churchill’s funeral), and “The Sound of Silence” invoked by the Simon and Garfunkel song. And it is in music — from 1960s hits to Bach’s B-minor Mass — that Sister Teresa finds the language where words are inadequate.

The failure of words to knit together meaning was demonstrated by last week’s The Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday of last week), in which the participants were asked to problematise the meaning of Easter. It was a curious affair: Canon Rachel Mann was the only one sounding as if she knew why she was there; and, in the case of the “actor-comedian-writer” David Mills, I couldn’t help wondering whether the producers had inadvertently booked the wrong guy.

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