The British have always had a reputation as a nation of queues, but even by our standards there have been many in recent days. As the late Queen Elizabeth II’s casket stands in London’s Westminster Hall, thousands of people line up to pay their respects to the country’s longest-serving monarch. To manage this mile-long line, which many have taken just to call The rowthe UK government has turned to platforms including: Twitter, YouTubeand Instagram to provide up to the minute updates.
Although The Queue is currently full and the government is advising new people not to join, as of 9am UK time this morning DCMS reported that it was 4.9 miles (almost 8 km) long, with an estimated waiting time of 14 hours. That’s more than half a day of slow shuffling to spend at most a few brief moments in the same room as the deceased queen’s coffin.
Several times a day, the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Tweeting updates on The Queue, pointing out the length of the queue and how long new members must wait before reaching Westminster Hall. The Twitter account also uses the geolocation service What3Words (a service that assigns three short words to identify specific GPS locations) to point people to the exact location of the end of The Queue.
But for anyone who needs even more up-to-date queue information, there’s also: a DCMS YouTube livestream, which contains current information on the line of mourners making their way across Westminster Bridge and along the south bank of the River Thames. At the time of writing, just under 9,000 people are watching.
There are issues with the technology used to tame The Queue. Gizmodo reports that several of the What3Words locations tweeted by DCMS have pointed to incorrect locations as far as California due to minor typos in the geolocation expressions. For example, what should have been shops.view.paths (a square just north of the Tate Modern, London) was accidentally tweeted as shops.views.paths (pointing to Charlotte, NC).
But what does it all do? mean? I love this take from Twitter user @curiousguanawho asks whether The Queue could be “the best piece of British performance art that ever happened”?
“It is the mother lode of queues. It’s art. It’s poetry. It is the queue to end all queues,” they write. “It opened earlier today and is already 2.2 miles long. They will close it when the time comes five miles. That’s a queue that would last two hours walking at a brisk pace… You can’t have a chair and a sleeping bag. There is no sleeping in The Queue, because The Queue moves constantly and steadily, day and night.”
Sign up The new statesman, Marie Le Conte muses of “the Queue, in its own British way, is a textbook example of how people deal with grief. Something great and terrible has happened and you don’t know what to do with yourself, so instead you plunge your whole being into something absurd.”
The death of Queen Elizabeth II is one of those strange national moments that is hard to comprehend. It’s not an event that requires you to physically show up, like an election or a major sporting event, it’s just… in the air. Right now, The Queue is one of the few tangible things you can actually interact with and feel like you’re part of a moment in history.
When Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI, died in 1952, a long line of mourners formed to pay their respects. In a piece published that year on the so-called Great Queue, Time noted that “no one could precisely measure or plot the serpentine columns of people that formed and reformed, doubled, branched and wound back again along the streets of London and across chilly Thames bridges, to catch one last glimpse of the coffin of the king.” 70 years later, as the web and GPS technology allow us to track the undulations of The Queue online in great detail, the situation couldn’t be any different.