Sunday, 28 March 2010

Being late is not cute or eccentric; it's unacceptable.

I read Alice’s latest post on flakey friends with a sense of painful recognition. I, too, suffer at the hands of those who stretch the word ‘friend’ to its utmost limit by messing me around when it comes to getting together. The worst offender on record must surely be the individual who left me waiting outside Centre Point on the Tottenham Court Road for an hour and a half on an unbearably hot summer’s evening, to then text saying he been caught late at work. Funnily enough I already knew that as I’d been there for a full 90 minutes. Men could have played an entire game of football in that time.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I hung around so long doing aimless circuits around the block, past the Michael Jackson statue and We Will Rock You, before I pretended to browse merchandise in yet another sex shop, all with a raging cheap-white-wine-hangover.

Well, it’s my own fault. I worry about my own shortcomings. Some call me high maintenance and some are a little more unkind, going straight for fussy. I like things just so; not only big things but the little ones, too. Suspecting that my detractors may have a point, I often feel an obligation to tone down my flagrant disapproval and pretend that small things don’t bother me and I’m actually super chilled about the fact you’re running late.

I notice myself having to do it more and more when it comes to tardiness as slowly, bit by bit, the entire world loses the ability to turn up anywhere at the appointed hour. At the age of 15 I was awarded a prefect’s badge at school. My duties included lurking at the gate one week per half term and jotting down the names of those arriving after the first bell. Why, may we ask, was this done? To impress upon impressionable adolescents the importance of being on time. Not five minutes late, not 10 minutes late – on time.

Once I’d left school, GCSE results clutched in my sweaty hand, all instruction regarding lateness was finished. At Sixth Form College they were pleased you turned up at all, then university was a come-and-go-as-you-please affair with no registers. Surely the world of work would get things back on track. But no. Of the weird and wonderful mix of jobs I’ve had, most only become concerned with time keeping when looking for a reason to get rid of someone. The closer to Central London and the more professional the workplace, the laxer they become about lateness. It took me a long while to realise that up to 15 minutes late wasn’t late; it wasn’t even noticed. So now I see how the word got out and spread like wildfire.

Let’s not forget the role of the mobile telephone in this malevolent brainwashing. Once upon a time, one simply had to be at the agreed meeting place at the agreed time or the other party would give up and go home. Maybe a person would wait 15 minutes, 30 for a very good friend but after that the window of opportunity had closed. Now thanks to your little portable device you can send endless mendacious messages along the lines of: “Trains slow – there in 10 minutes” (which means “I left late and I’ll be half an hour”) or: “Just picking up a few bits in the shop, get yourself a drink and I’ll be there ASAP” (which means “I’m going to try on the contents of three clothes stores, seriously consider totally overhauling my entire look, buy something, take it back, buy something else and then meet you. Allow at least an hour; I hope you’ve got a book with you”).

That might be why it’s begun to happen, but let’s take a minute to talk about why it should not happen. For starters it is rude. In a world of incredibly busy people constantly chasing time and trying to squeeze yet more into the day, causing someone to lose a quantity of that precious commodity because you can’t be arsed to miss the end of Hollyoaks is thoughtless and selfish.

Although many a modern woman is perfectly capable of sitting in a bar, coffee shop or other venue alone, it doesn’t mean she enjoys it. Nor should she have to put up with it because a supposed mate is either unable to organise their own time or under the impression that their life is far more important than that of the kindly soul sat somewhere glancing hopefully at the door each time it opens. Regardless of what you may have seen, read or heard, lateness is not quirky, cute or eccentric. Keeping another person waiting, apart from in the instance of genuine emergency, is nothing short of bad form and a damning statement about your own time management skills. Read more by Rosie.