All my life I’ve been late. Since I came into the world overdue, I’ve been sliding in at the back, crafting explanations, regularly, slightly, late. I know, it is unacceptable behaviour. But hear me out.
My goal is to arrive on time, not too early or too late, which requires the day to go as smoothly as the plan in my head. Sometimes this happens which must be why I keep attempting it. But often it doesn’t. Traffic lights are against me, people ask for help, children rebel. Life gets in the way. But that’s where the kick comes in because battling through the obstacles and beating the clock makes me feel great, as though I can take what life throws at me and still coming out winning, even if I’m in second place a fair bit of the time. The majority are against me on this, the moral compass has swung past me and my attempts to cram extra stuff into life are considered a bit, well, old-school.
It is no longer possible to buy pumpkins on Hallowe’en. Gone, all those orange heaps that were there a week before the big day. Or Valentines cards on Valentines Day. It’s quite pleasant to shop on Christmas Eve because the rush now happens the day before that. I love planning ahead as much as the next person, (over ambitious about everything, not just time) but if you can’t buy things on the actual day, where is the fun in that? And there are many of us, scramblers and jugglers. I know because I’ve seen the whites of their eyes as we hover over the greeting cards scanning for one last Mother’s Day card. The flip side of the panic is the creative cobbling-together which follows. One year I bought a selection of curiously shaped butternut squash for Halloween lanterns which worked surprisingly well, their narrow heads and bulbous bellies charming the kids and amusing the adults who thought I was being ironic. See, See? The kick! Spontaneity is its own reward.
Plain old lateness, not so much. I shoot myself in the foot and do not impress people. A dear friend recently took me to task for making her wait 45 minutes in a bar. In my defence, this was a highly unusual occurrence. I’d hosted a party for 26 six-year olds in the afternoon, and mismanaged my time. But obviously I was deeply ashamed as I’d made her feel less than valued which is so far from the truth it’s ridiculous. She’s been late for me of course, it happens to us all. But I’m the regular offender. She’s been allowing an extra 15 minutes after the time we agreed to meet before turning up herself, a system which has worked well for years. I never mind waiting on her if I’m on time, or on anyone really, it’s like the universe has given me a time bonus. But I realise this is not a truth universally acknowledged. I know it’s wrong to waste other people’s time and am not defending tardiness. My point is more that a bit of come and go makes life easier and allowing ourselves to be governed so much by the clock makes no sense, when we are all still human.
For example. Yesterday I arrived at the GP and checked in for my appointment to be met with a large red cross and the words TOO LATE. I glanced at the clock on my phone. It was six minutes after the appointment time. Not fifteen minutes, which is the point at which hairdressers and dentists cancel appointments, having obviously got together at a conference and decided that fifteen minutes should be the cut off point. Six.
This in an establishment which is set up to deal with people who are ill. The mums, derailed by unplanned pooing, sicking and tantrumming, the depressed and infirm, who have struggled to get out of the door, bipolar and schizophrenic people trying to stay in the present and control the hallucinations long enough to explain them. And what do they get met by? A computer telling them they have failed to meet the standard required.
Fortunately there are still people behind the reception desk who are able to forgive this shortcoming, after a bit of eyerolling. But seriously? Six minutes?
The appointments system has become the standard way of running a service-based business, from restaurants to shoe shops, to save us all waiting in queues for hours on end. But surely there is room for some flexibility? There are many people who regularly turn up a whole fifteen minutes early for things,which used to be rude, and are slotted in early. Why not extend the courtesy to the late, who can be slotted in when the next space becomes free? So long as everyone is seen in a reasonable time, what need have we of cancellations and judgements? Unless of course, it is quite fun to exert the small power we have, to belittle others.
It’s worth remembering that the latecomers are sometimes needy or vulnerable, juggling demands and all too aware of their short-comings. They’re not late on purpose. Often they are trying their best. And what does the crime of lateness actually amount to? It slows the rest of us down a bit. As do long coffee queues, garrulous bosses, hungover colleagues, missed deadlines. We still have to be at work till the end of the day. Each of us messes up in some way. And in a world full of imperfect people being lazy, well-intentioned and broken-hearted under the surface, we should cut each other some slack.