Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Quantum of Queuing

Yesterday was a pretty good day.  Thomas behaved himself, apart from a minor argument about spoons and a brief shoe dispute.  Ben was only Very Angry once, although he was Mildly Irked a couple of times and Fairly Irritated for a short period of time around nine o’clock.  Thomas ate all his tea without having to be asked fifteen times.  Ben had two reasonable naps without screaming and yelling that he WASN’T TIRED NOT TIRED NOT TIRED…Zzzzzzzzz…….

And to top it all off, both of them were asleep by 7.45, freeing up an entire evening for wine and chocolate puddings meaningful pursuits.

They are clearly ill.

Or possibly plotting something so major that they need me lulled into a false sense of security while their plan comes to fruition.

Putting aside my permanent sense of acute paranoia, I think Ben is developing some semblance of logic.  All of his cranky spells yesterday were fairly legitimate.  There were no irrational OH MY GOD YOU ARE WEARING A RED TOP AND I LIKE BLUE ONES SO I WILL WAIL AND BEAT YOU WITH MY TINY BUT STRANGELY EFFECTIVE FISTS moments.  Nor were there any GOOD GRIEF WOMAN I TOLD YOU THREE MILISECONDS AGO THAT I WAS HUNGRY ARE YOU COMPLETELY STUPID moments.  When he grumbled, I could see his point.

Particularly when his point involved the supermarket.

Now regular readers may have figured out that I don’t particularly like supermarkets.  I don’t think they work well at all.  People don’t follow the Anne-Rules.

But because I don’t like them, I want to spend as little time in them as possible.  I have therefore conducted an extensive study into the science of shopping and have reached several important conclusions.  I may well apply for a PhD on the basis of these findings – they would be a vastly beneficial addition to the knowledge of the world.

I was therefore alarmed and more than a little irked when my vast body of supermarket knowledge let me down yesterday and we finished up spending more time in Sainsburys than anyone should be required to spend in any supermarket.  Hence Ben’s irritation.  Which I entirely shared.

The central strand of my research involves Queue Theory.  For many years now, the complex dynamics of supermarket queues have flummoxed some of the greatest minds of each generation.   Supermarket queues defy the rules of physics.  There is the way in which they appear to bend time so that whichever queue you join will always be the slowest.  Then there is the fact that the number of people in the queue bears no relation whatsoever to the speed at which it moves.  Finally there is the apparent mind-warping effect of a queue upon its component shoppers, causing them to lose all ability to think logically.

Queue Theory involves a number of rules and conclusions which, if properly applied, should allow a shopper to avoid the black holes that seem to exist around all supermarket tills.  Yesterday Ben and I were thoroughly sucked in and trapped for an inordinate amount of time, but I think I can see what I did wrong.

When I first began my research, many years ago, I had a number of preconceived notions and fairly basic theories.  Never queue behind anyone over the age of 60.  Try to choose queues with couples for packing speed.  Avoid people with small children like the plague.  Young men buy less and pack faster. 

After a while it became apparent that these stereotypes were not always accurate.  Young men were capable of monumental amounts of faff.  Elderly ladies could pack at a speed that would win them several of the manual dexterity games in The Cube.  When I began to look at the matter more closely I realised that there were actually a huge number of factors at play in Queue-Quantum.

Yesterday I failed to take all these factors into consideration.  I saw an elderly lady with an unusually well-organised trolley and a number of pre-opened re-useable bags.  Bingo.  I hurtled across the space between us and secured the spot behind her.

Where I remained for about the next fifteen minutes.  What I had failed to factor in was the complete lack of any obvious means to pay in her hand.  I had wrongly identified her as an OTISOrganised Trolley, Incredible Speed, not realising that she was in fact a WOEDIPIWhere on Earth Did I Put It? with some OTIS traits.  Ben glared at her judgementally while she patted herself down in the time-honoured WOEDIPI manner, before emptying her entire handbag contents onto the till area.  I should have told him he was wasting his time with the glaring – the overriding characteristic of WOEDIPIs is there complete immunity to glares and tuts.  She eventually located her wallet and the queue heaved a collective sigh of relief.

A little too soon.  Now she knew she had a voucher somewhere in there and she was going to find it.  It wasn’t in her wallet.  A further patting down ensued.  Not in her pockets either.  Oh, that’s right, she put it in the other part of her wallet so she wouldn’t forget about it.  Silly her!  Tee hee!  The voucher was duly extracted and handed over to the cashier.  Who proceeded to embark in a lengthy explanation of the voucher-entry system of her till.

At this point I realised, with growing horror, that this was no ordinary WOEDIPI situation.  This was a WOEDIPI-DIMWITAT combo.  (DIMWITAT – Did I Mention What I Thought About That?)  This is a fairly lethal combination – someone who is easily distracted from the crucial business of searching for the means to pay, and someone who is keen to distract them further by talking about anything that comes into their head.

We were there for some time.  I think we can safely say that Ben disapproved.  Particularly when it turned out that the WOEDIPI also had some INIAH (I’m Not In Any Hurry) qualities and was quite happy to hang around the tills chatting about vouchers until I managed to herd her away with the front of my trolley.  At this point we discovered that the DIMWITAT had broken her till.  This did not improve Ben’s mood.

There are all sorts of factors that you need to be aware of when picking your queue.  Here are a few of my top tips:

Wallet/bank card in hand.  This is a sure-fire speedy shopper sign.  Get right in there.

Pre-school children.  Avoid at all costs.  There is always the risk that one of them will make a   break for the door at a speed that rivals that of Usain Bolt, bringing the queue to a grinding halt while the harassed parent gives chase.

Babies.  The mother wants to be out of there as fast as possible before the baby starts screaming and everyone within a 50m radius starts offering unsolicited parenting advice.  She will pack fast, pay fast and leave fast.

Arguing couples.  Do.  Not.  Even.  Go. There.

Hand-holding couples.  See above

Neatly ordered trolley.  Likely to pack fast.  But might also be an obsessive tillside wallet-tidier.

Queue-Theory is still in its research stage and I am open to findings from anyone else.

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