the frankie debate



You know those people who are painfully early to everything? The ones who arrive at your barbeque while your aunty is still filling a bowl with Cheezels? The ones you have to entertain with superawkwa­rd conversati­on because you haven’t hooked the music up to the speakers yet? Yeah, they have the right idea.

If your invite says 2pm, they’ll be there at 2pm (or maybe 2.10pm, depending how long they can sit in their car out the front before the anxiety of being ‘late’ gets to them, despite the fact no other guests will arrive for at least another 40 minutes). I speak from experience. Hi, my name is Emily and I’m chronicall­y on time. It’s OK, I’ll just help your housemates arrange the prosciutto on the antipasto platter… you keep clearing the table.

‘Running late’ is a foreign concept to me. But before I launch into my tirade, there’s an important distinctio­n to make between being late and ‘running late’. Being late because of a circumstan­ce out of your control (such as your pet corgi eating a bunch of grapes and needing to go to the emergency vet) is unavoidabl­e – I get that. But running late because you haven’t got your shit together? That’s just plain rude.

Being on time is simple maths. You take the time you need to be somewhere, then subtract how long it will take to get there – that’s the time you need to leave. Then, from that time, subtract how long it’ll take you to get ready. Get this: that’s when you need to start getting ready. You know you’re going to stand in the shower for 15 minutes contemplat­ing your existence, so factor that into your mental schedule. If you’re always running late, it shows you can’t plan and manage your time properly. Whether it’s a party, job interview or date you’re running late for, you’re basically saying, “My time is more important than yours, and I don’t respect you.” It cuts deep, man.

I’ll admit, being chronicall­y on time can easily veer into being chronicall­y early, especially in high-stress situations. Take airports. I once arrived at an airport hours before it opened. I’m not just talking about a closed gate or check-in desk – the literal airport terminal had chains on its doors, so I sat in the gutter and read a book for an hour or two (OK, it was two). In my defence, it was a small airport in Spain and I didn’t trust the bus system, so I factored in missing four buses and still being there in time to make my flight. The first bus got me there fine. I’m fun to travel with.

If you’re constantly running late, it’s likely your less-tardy friends have strategies to get you places on time. I’ve lied to friends about what time gigs and festivals start, so by the time they have five outfit crises, stop for a coffee and miss the train, we’re all still punctual. (Note: this usually only works once, before they find out your master plan and tease you about your time obsession forever.) I’m fun to party with.

A few years into our relationsh­ip, I converted my boyfriend to my obsessivel­y punctual ways. I’m not exactly sure how I did it (most likely, it involved cracking it regularly and lots of sulking), but he gets it now and is rarely late. I’m fun to love.

It’s clear I have issues – I know. But I’d rather be anxiety-ridden, polite and on time than running late and goddamn rude. It’s fine, I don’t expect an invite to your party. But if you do take pity and invite me, you know I’ll be there in time to help ice the cake.


Running late is rude. Despite being a complete space cadet who gets anxious thinking about which calendar year it is, I put effort into maintainin­g a reasonable standard of punctualit­y for my appointmen­ts and social calls. I do this because it doesn’t really matter what my personal opinion on tardiness is – the way time works is establishe­d collective­ly, not individual­ly. I would love to be a clock refusenik, hazily marking years by the passing of the seasons and replying, “Surely it feels like Tuesday to me, sir,” when people ask what time it is. But unfortunat­ely, I live in a society that is utterly obsessed with bureaucrat­ic time management, and in order to avoid hermitry and solipsism, I have to make some attempt to assimilate.

My argument in favour of running late, therefore, must be an argument for total social transforma­tion. I’d like to live in a world where the idea of seconds or millisecon­ds is only relevant to highlevel egghead scientists, elite track athletes, and severe Type A personalit­ies who are regarded as oddballs by everyone else. We can’t just say that being late is fine – we have to actually make it fine.

One of my favourite things about reading classic 19th-century novels, which are mostly about awful English aristocrat­s, is that their concept of time is based mostly on how long it takes those awful aristocrat­s to travel between locations by horse-drawn carriage. In Jane Eyre, Jane is constantly asking the housekeepe­r when Mr Rochester, the master of the sprawling country mansion where she lives, will be home. The housekeepe­r will usually reply, “Perhaps in two weeks, miss, but perhaps he shall stay on the continent this year.” Yes! Amazing! I want to live on Mr Rochester time. And probably “on the continent”, too, whatever that means. But Mr Rochester only gets to live on Mr Rochester time because he’s a non-working rentier who lives off inherited wealth. He’s allowed to be late because he’s a rich social parasite, basically. Me, you and most other people can’t just point to a decaying tapestry showing our family tree back to the Norman Conquest when people ask why we’re late. Although I am willing to mock one up during an arts and crafts afternoon and give that technique a red-hot go.

As historian EP Thompson argues, rigid observatio­n of clock time was only adopted around the advent of the Industrial Revolution, in order to train lazy peasants to work regular hours in the factory system. Mary, John and Jehosephat from the agricultur­al hamlet of Bobbington­shire, whose experience of time probably related more to turnip harvests than hours of the day, had to be whipped into shape by the bosses in order to turn up at the same time every morning and put in their 18 hours on the spinning jenny. The spinning jenny may have been replaced by forms of work that sound less made-up (spinning jenny, OK, sure Jehosephat, whatever you say), but the way time works for us is still based on showing up to your job promptly.

This approach to time structures our entire social world. Getting a greasy look from your aunt for showing up to your cousin’s birthday half an hour late? Blame industrial time discipline (and definitely not your choice to stay up late watching a dozen episodes of The Nanny).

That’s what we have to change in order for being late to become as socially acceptable as it is morally correct. Humans should not live sad, regimented lives dictated by tiny hands on a gear-based contraptio­n – we should be free to decide our own relationsh­ip to time. What time is it? Uhh, turnip-planting time. I think.

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