A wait on our minds

Late­ness is im­bued with glam­our for some peo­ple, but they face a tick­ing-off from Mar­i­anne Ka­vanagh

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Living -

Dur­ing the week, peo­ple who turn up late for any­thing have the grace to look flus­tered, like the White Rab­bit in fear of ex­e­cu­tion. But at the week­end, late­com­ers ex­pect to be for­given. Like Tony Blair, they smile but don’t look the least bit sorry.

This can be galling if, to be on time, you have left home half­way through the rugby match, aban­doned a longed-for cup of tea, or used bribery and cor­rup­tion to get small chil­dren bathed and in bed. You ex­pect a medal; in­stead you’re re­warded with a cold wait on a street cor­ner.

“What re­ally an­noys me are the ex­cuses,” says a friend who wants to re­main name­less. “It’s worse than ‘my dog ate my home­work’. I don’t want to hear about the baby-sit­ter’s flu, or the burst wa­ter pipe, or the flat tyre. I just wish they’d be hon­est and say they couldn’t be both­ered to be there on time. At least then I wouldn’t be ex­pected to sym­pa­thise.”

At week­ends, we’re sup­posed to be so fo­cused on re­lax­ation that we bury our watches un­der the sofa cush­ions. “From Mon­day to Fri­day, ev­ery­one is liv­ing by their di­aries,” says Jo Aitchi­son, au­thor of De­brett’s Cor­rect Form. “There seems to be a dif­fer­ent set of rules at the week­end. Peo­ple like to set their own pace.

“But you have to re­mem­ber that there is no such thing as fash­ion­ably late. If you’re in­vited for din­ner at 8pm, you must be there by 8.30pm — and prefer­ably by 8.15pm. If you’re meet­ing one other per­son who has to sit on his or her own for ages, you have a win­dow of just 15 min­utes.”

The trou­ble is that late­ness is im­bued with glam­our, as if only those with sad lit­tle lives are both­ered about be­ing on time. “Punc­tu­al­ity,” Eve­lyn Waugh once said, “is the virtue of the bored.”

Mo­bile phones make ev­ery­thing worse. In­vet­er­ate lag­gards keep you in­formed of their progress, as if this will some­how make up for a Satur­day-night din­ner slowly re­duced to char­coal in the oven. “My sis­ter is al­ways late,” says Mi­randa, “but up­dates me with bul­letins ev­ery five min­utes. By the time she ar­rives, I feel as if I’ve done the whole jour­ney with her.” No one wants to spend the week­end clock-watch­ing. Some events like old­fash­ioned par­ties — the ones that drift, in a state of ami­able ine­bri­a­tion, into the small hours — never start on time. Any ar­range­ment that in­volves tod­dlers also has to be flexible. Small peo­ple can­not be hur­ried and have to stop ev­ery five min­utes to ad­mire weeds, brick walls and stray dogs. Equally, you have to be re­al­is­tic. You can’t ex­pect teenagers to turn up for

any­thing ear­lier than lunch at the week­end. Their hor­mones dic­tate that they lie all morn­ing deep un­der du­vets, like long-buried skele­tons. You also have to be aware that early-morn­ing ap­point­ments — squash games, com­mu­nal dog-walk­ing, go­ing to church — are much tougher on some than oth­ers.

Dr Si­mon Archer, lec­turer in neu­ro­science at Sur­rey Univer­sity, says: “Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent un­der­ly­ing body clocks which lead to ‘di­ur­nal pref­er­ences’. You’re a morn­ing type or an evening type. Evening peo­ple have spent the week get­ting up early for work but still stay­ing up late, and end up with a sleep debt. They tend to lie in at week­ends to catch up.”

But once you’ve taken th­ese bi­o­log­i­cal and hor­monal dif­fer­ences into ac­count, late­ness boils down to habit. Dawdlers al­ways un­der­es­ti­mate trav­el­ling time, even though ev­ery­one knows that on Sun­days traf­fic cones will ap­pear as if by magic and rail­ways will grind to a halt. Dither­ers also try to cram too much in be­fore they leave — phon­ing Aus­tralia, putting on six coats of mas­cara or comb­ing the cat.

There are even those who have got used to the feel­ing of power that be­ing late gives them. “My hus­band’s boss thinks the evening can’t start with­out him,” says a frus­trated host­ess. “He makes us wait so that we re­alise how im­por­tant he is.”

You can, of course, play with ar­range­ments to al­low for hope­less time-keep­ing. “We have friends who are al­ways late,” says a col­league. “So we say a film starts at 7.30pm when it’s re­ally 8.30pm to make sure they ar­rive when we do.” One friend, who de­spairs of her boyfriend ever be­ing on time, has set all her clocks 15 min­utes fast. But this back­fires. “He wan­ders about look­ing con­fused, say­ing: ‘Is that real time or our time?’”

But you live in hope that the worst of­fend­ers will see the er­ror of their ways. “For years, I was al­ways late,” says Louise. “I was for ever turn­ing up flus­tered and hot, full of apolo­gies and ex­cuses. Then one day I re­alised that I was putting my­self at a huge dis­ad­van­tage, be­cause ev­ery­one was al­ways cross with me. So I made a huge ef­fort to be on time. And I’m much hap­pier as a re­sult.”

The moral of the story is: if you want your friends to have a good week­end too, don’t keep them wait­ing.

Get me to the church some time: Hugh Grant and Char­lotte Cole­man be­ing fash­ion­ably late in the film ‘Four Wed­dings and a Funeral’. Top: the clock at Water­loo Sta­tion

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