131: god save us all

This week my guilty watch has been THE QUEUE. Not in real life, obviously, but on the live tracker on YouTube. As I write, the queue is at capacity and the waiting time is approximately 24 hours. Announcers on the stations yesterday were saying THE QUEUE IS FULL and DO NOT TRAVEL TO JOIN THE QUEUE. Around me I could almost see English heads exploding as their patriotic right to queue was removed (OK, I may have lied about the last bit). There are probably people in the queue at this minute, having spent a very chilly night near the river, muttering about Blitz spirit and that sort of thing because that is what English people do under many circumstances (tube delays, rail strikes, Brexit, scone shortages, and so on).

I am trying to work out if I have ever heard of any other occasion when people have volunteered to join a six mile queue – I mean, if it was the M25, they’d be cursing it and there almost certainly wouldn’t be doughnuts involved. Even legendary squeaky-voiced (but aging attractively as long as he doesn’t talk) ex-footballer David Beckham was in THE QUEUE for 13 hours. 13 HOURS. Like he was a NORMAL person or something. I get that this is an historic moment, I really do, and – as the mawkish would have it – “we will never see her like again”, but this is still peak English. A queue with a control room, wristbands, its own YouTube tracker and weather forecast, toilets and street doughnut sellers: the queueiest queue ever. I suspect Charles will not have the same kind of turnout in twenty years or so, when he shuffles off*, although surely he deserves some sort of recognition for longest apprenticeship ever. I wonder, also, whether it was quite so urgent for him to make the tour of the UK when he is so clearly grieving hard for his mother. We have TV and social media, we all know what he looks like and he is not, after all, actually governing the country in anything but name. The period of ‘national mourning’ should surely apply to him too. It’s not as if we’re going to revolt.

Another thing I don’t understand is how a three-minute Jubilee skit with a pretend bear has come to define a 77 year reign – marmalade sandwiches are all very well, but you won’t be saying ‘awww’ when central London is overrun with giant rats hyped up on white bread and sugar. Plus, if I was a bear arriving at Buckingham Palace I’d have been seriously concerned for my skin.

Not a real bear

The thing I don’t understand the most is the way that businesses are behaving. This week is the first time my beloved has got angry about workers’ rights, and I think he may finally see the point of my role as a union rep. Schools are closing for the day. Chains like Aldi, Costa, McDonalds are closing for the day ‘out of respect for her Majesty’. However, there is no legal obligation for companies to pay their staff for a normal bank holiday let alone this extra one – so those people who have their bank holidays folded into their leave allowance (20 days leave plus eight bank holidays is their allowance for the year, which is bad enough) are having one of their precious 20 days compulsorily deducted. As long as the employer gives a minimum of 48 hours notice that they are going to do this, it’s perfectly legal. While I understand that employers are not making profits while they are closed, there are implications to this: for parents who hoard their leave to save money on childcare in the holidays, for example, or people who have used up their allowance for the year. Presumably they will be made to take unpaid leave.

Spare a further thought for those people who work part-time in those closed schools as cleaners, or lunch time supervisors. For those zero hours workers working on events which have been cancelled during this period, or casual workers who don’t get paid if they don’t work. Minimum wage workers, for example, on £9.50 an hour if they’re over 23 – and that’s the minimum living wage, not the ‘real living wage’ which is calculated at £9.90 outside London and £11.05 in. Remember that only the minimum wage is a statutory requirement, too, not the ‘real’ figure. These workers may only be doing a couple of hours a day in these roles, but in those two hours that’s £19 they’ve earned. After NI and possibly tax depending on how many part-time jobs they’re doing, that’s £15 or so to take home. That’s a week of school dinners if you’re just over the threshold for eligibility for free school meals. That’s several days’ food for the family. That’s a couple of days on the electricity and gas key, if you’re also being screwed over by the power companies in that way. Think of the sub-contractors who aren’t earning either, and the self-employed. My standard Asda shop went up by £40 this month, the definition of ‘cap’ seems to be different for the energy companies than it is for the rest of us, interest rates are going mad. Handing out an extra bank holiday in the name of national mourning is all very well, but to take money out of people’s pockets with the other hand is an insult.

What I’ve been reading:

False Values/Amongst Our Weapons/What Abigail Did That Summer – Ben Aaronovitch

To the Land of Long Lost Friends/The Joy and Light Bus Company – Alexander McCall Smith

*On the subject of Charles, have a word with your advisers about their planning skills. Owain Glyndwr Day was not the wisest choice for your first trip to the principality with your new hat on. Probably not your fault, but still – after 50 odd years in the Prince of Wales role, a bit of historical tact wouldn’t go amiss. Ask Michael Sheen. He’ll tell you.

Cover Image: Sky.com

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