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Monday, 11 October 2010

Queueing Action Part 3

You could probably replicate this scene in any chip shop in the country, even today. Standing in these queues was never a wonderful pastime but was marginally more interesting in Comley’s (which was the family name, if memory serves me correctly, which is rare) in Uxbridge Street. This was the last chip shop that I can remember that still had coal-fired ranges. Mr. Comley was responsible for stoking the fires and cooking the produce, Mrs. Comley served and maintained a constant flow of conversation with each customer based on her encyclopaedic knowledge of everyone and everything in the vicinity. I remember that the conversation was always scrupulously polite. I would usually go to Comley’s with my Nanna Whiteland, who had been a regular customer of theirs for years but the conversation would still be on the lines of:
“Oh hello Mrs. Whiteland, how’s your (insert name of offspring here)”
“Very well, Mrs. Comley, I’ll have a cod and sixpennorth please”
I don’t think I ever heard Mr. Comley speak. He would stride in and either hurl coal into one of the ranges or drop a battered fish into the seething fat (never, thankfully, confusing these operations, deep-fried anthracite not being to everyone’s taste), nod to the waiting populace and then disappear into the bowels of the shop.
A similar queuing system could be found in the local butcher’s on Tuesday evenings. Savoury Duck night! The trick here was to be in place at exactly the time when the Savoury Ducks came out of the oven. Then quickly back home with the hot products safely contained in the white earthenware bowl brought specially for this purpose. I didn’t know what goes into Savoury Ducks and I still don’t know what goes into them. More to the point, I don’t want to know what goes into them. I just know that they tasted great then and still do today (although they are much harder to find these days).
For really complex queuing though, it was difficult to beat our local Doctor’s surgery. For many years our Doctor steadfastly refused to entertain the idea of an appointment system, presumably because he found the spectacle of most of his patients having been ground down to frustrated, gibbering wrecks, more entertaining. Our Doctor’s surgery was contained in what must have been a rather grand house in its day. The two front rooms were now consulting rooms which were approached by a long corridor. Patients entered the building through the rear door, reported to the Receptionist who occupied a cubby hole to the left of the door at the end of the corridor and were then instructed to wait in the waiting room directly across the corridor from her cubby hole. The waiting room must have been the kitchen and servants quarters of the house and was now filled with a series of dilapidated armchairs and benches arranged in a circle around the walls. Above the fireplace were two small lights, one connected to a bell and one connected to a buzzer. As one or other of the Doctors concluded their consultation they would press a button which would illuminate their light and sound a bell or buzzer in the waiting room, instructing the next patient to come down.
On entering the waiting room, a sense of deep depression would fill your soul. It didn’t matter what time you attended the surgery, the waiting room was always full. I think the surgery hours were officially 5 – 6 pm but, in reality, the waiting room would be full by 4 pm and the last patient might not be seen until 7pm. As you entered the room, all eyes would fall upon you, not because of your wonderful dramatic presence but simply so that everyone else in the room could register your face and place you in their mental holding pattern.